Shore to be Shore

Stephen Shore

“Most people presume thinking has to do with words that are either spoken or thought, where as visual thinking does not have these words”

Stephen Shore, West Third Street, Parkersberg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974.

Found an interesting video link the other day that got me on to thinking about Michael Polanyi’s tacit knowledge and photography amongst other things. The link is a short documentary entitled American Beauty about the Photographer Stephen Shore who describes elements of his practice. Shores methodology was the bit that subsequently reminded me of Polanyi’s famous aphorism “We know more then we can tell”. With a certain sense of irony Shore describes (in his own words) a ‘wordless’ thinking that takes place during the creation of one of his photographs.

Shore goes on to inform us that he spent ten years learning the formal properties of photography. Because of this sustained period of learning Shore explains that he does not (consciously) need to think about these formalistic devices when taking photos. Similar to the forging of a ‘tacit knowing’ much of the previous conscious picture making strategies have receded into Shores subconscious, leaving mostly instinctual decisions. By essentially freeing the mind from directly thinking about the formal / technical elements of the work Shore is able to ‘think’ about where he is going with the picture. This and other descriptions by Shore appear comparable to an iterative form of learning, common to the properties of tacit knowledge.

Know your tools:

Shore utilizes the inherent qualitative aspects of the large format photograph such as clarity and detail for example. These qualities provide Shore with the visual representation of what he describes as a ‘heightened state of awareness,’ equally pertinent toward his interest with a clear and focused attention of the everyday world. One particular insight by Shore regarding the experience of time through the photographic image made me think of the photograph and its relationship to reality. Shore explains the speed with which we experience a photographic image when looking at the print (normally a few secs) – compared with the actuality of time that can reside within a photograph (exposure time). The experience of time through a photograph is allusive to us although visually acknowledgeable, as Shore summaries in saying “there is a sense of time being compressed in a photo”. It is this reminder of how image and reality differ that got me thinking about my own interest in the prominence of image over reality.

“The camera in all its manifestations is our god, dispensing what we mistakenly take to be truth. The photograph is the modern world” – Thomas Lawson

With this in mind it’s amusing to consider the photographic exposure length as having the prevailing influence upon the time with which we can only experience the images depiction of reality. Or a kind of synesthesia where the exposure length maybe experienced as ‘weight’, here a seven-minute exposure compared to that of a two second would feel lighter! There’s possibly an artwork in here somewhere!