Stephen Shore – ‘Stereographs: New York, 1974’

In 1974, Stephen Shore, always ready to explore new photographic tools and techniques, acquired a  Stereo Realist camera and began exploring “the puzzle of how to most effectively translate the real world into a successful “3-D” image given the particulars of the technology. ‘I was interested in seeking out situations in which the camera was doing something different from how our eyes see things: reflections, windows, a shadow on a chain-link fence, a rug that seems to float off the ground — each scenario created this amazing sense of space.'”*

Shore produced a total of 30 pictures for the series. 15 of them were shown at Light gallery in 1975, and the full series appeared in the recent MoMA retrospective (I reviewed the catalog in March 2018), but the images were never included in a book or otherwise available for purchase, until now.

So how do you present stereo images to a viewer, especially in a manner that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home? Well, a popular children’s toy from my childhood, long forgotten and supplanted by digital things—even by the original manufacturer, which has now moved into the Virtual Reality space—seems an obvious choice…

Yes, that’s a custom, glossy black ViewMaster, apparently signed in silver paint marker by Shore himself.

Cool!

And the 30 images are presented on 5 viewing reels, with 6 images each, plus a title card.

Fun!

There’s just one problem:

Glasses.

With my glasses on, my eyes are outside of the ideal viewing distance, so I can’t see an entire image at once and have to pan around to view the pictures; without my glasses, my astigmatism limits the clarity and virtually ruins any suggestion of 3d. On my third attempt, with some care and mental focus, moving very slowly, I was able to successfully view the images, mostly, but it was very difficult.

For the series, Shore trained his lens on fairly mundane things—a rug, some window displays, reflections—and when I could see it, the 3d effect is disorienting and makes these historical scenes look somehow otherworldly. I really wish I could see them properly, but alas, and if you watch the unboxing all the way to the end, the shaky, jerky, view through the ViewMaster window sort of hints toward my in-person experience of the photographs and the object.

Someone with better vision—or contacts—will likely enjoy Stereographs much more than I do, and probably get more out of the work too.

Unrated.

Surprisingly, two months after its introduction, Stephen Shore: Stereographs remains available at Aperture and the MoMA online store. At $250.00 they’re not cheap, and, really, if you wear glasses don’t bother, but they are limited to 400 copies (I have #262). But for Shore fans and aficionados, it’s probably a do not miss, and I look forward to selling mine for a good deal more money (God willing) in a decade or so, or maybe keeping and enjoying them, if I ever switch to contacts (unlikely) or have my vision surgically corrected (more likely, but still not particularly likely).

Sadly, this has been one of the more disappointing photobook-type purchases I’ve made. I really like Shore’s work and to be unable to really enjoy and appreciate, let alone comment on, these 30 images is a real drag.


*Product blurb on Aperture.com .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.