Dean O'Brien's Blog

My latest book review…American Surfaces by Stephen Shore

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After doing quite a few assignments at Uni based around Documentary Photography it was recommended that I read a copy of American Surfaces by Stephen Shore.

Now to the untrained eye this book might appear to be full of boring, everyday items and scenes.  To be honest, thats exactly what it is.  It does however make you look at all of these things in a totally different way.  From the dirty toilets to shoe stores, every image tells a deeper story.  Shore describes this as ‘a visual journey of a trip across the country’.  He photographed every meal, everyone he met, every toilet, every bed he slept in and all the streets.  You cannot help but be pulled into the everyday life of 1970’s America.  To top it all these colour images were all processed at normal Kodak labs in New Jersey.  They were a shock to many who considered black & white images to be ‘art’ at the time.  Although Shore travelled right across America to get these images it does make you realise that there are numerous photo opportunities right in front of your nose.  Similar images could be achieved, although the narrative would obviously be different.  This book did give me something which I badly needed though and that was ideas for future projects.

The only bad news about this book is the price.  I always buy hardback books whenever possible and at the moment this book is out of print.  New old stock copies can be purchased from book specialists but expect to pay between £70 to £100.  I did however manage to pick myself up a brand new first edition still sealed in the original Kodak envelope from ebay.  This book is right up there with Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans (1959) and Gary Winogrand’s 1964 (2002).  If you do like the sound of this book but can’t quite justify the price then please consider ‘Uncommon Places: The complete works’ by Stephen Shore.  This book features very similar large format images and is well worth buying.  Hardback brand new copies are around £20 from Amazon.


Written by Dean O'Brien

January 4, 2010 at 12:04 am

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

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