Stephen Shore is a prominent photographer and photographic educator. A pioneer in the field of color photography, Shore has published numerous books of photography, included his seminal book, Uncommon Places, published in 1982 (reissued in 2004). He has also been director of the photography program at Bard College since that same year.
Excerpt: BRS: In your early work, you describe your process of making the work as being responsive to a “wordless thought” in terms of photography. Later you talk about becoming a teacher and having to concretely verbalize ideas to students. It seems that photography is somewhere in the middle, you can’t really stab at it through the center but you sort of embrace it on the sides.
SS: That’s a great way of putting it. I went through a big learning process when I started teaching, as you said, all those years before, my decision-making and thinking was visual thinking and that it was wordless, and that was perfectly fine. I could happily and consciously make images, but I didn’t ever have to formulate it in a formal way. Having to teach, I’m no use to the students unless I can stand up there and say something, so I went through a learning process of trying to figure out concretely what went into my visual thinking, and can it be put into words. If it can, how can I explain it, and can I explain it clearly.
BRS: Is having a verbal explanation necessary for the understanding of photography?
SS: No. I think a person can understand photography in a non-verbal way, but I can’t write a non-verbal book… but there are not a lot of words in the book, so I’m getting close to it! What I was able to do in this edition, was with each idea, there’s a portfolio, and the portfolio isn’t an illustration of the text, it’s carrying it forward, exactly the way you’re suggesting. Though the text is setting it up, the portfolio continues the dialogue in a non-verbal way. So there are some ideas I’m putting in the book that are expressed just in terms of photographs, and are not expressed in words. I thought that if I didn’t use the words, it wouldn’t concentrate the reader’s mind towards a particular aspect.