In 1993, photographer Stephen Shore travelled to Luzzara, a comune in the province of Reggio Emilia, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. A new photobook publishes never before seen images from the series.
Shore, now one of the most influential photographers of his generation, established himself in 1971 at the remarkable age of 24, when he became the second living photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Twenty years later, Shore travelled to the remote commune in northern Italy, near the Apennine mountains and the Po river. There he photographed Luzzara town’s people, streets and squares, just as another American photographer, Paul Strand, had done forty years earlier, when he produced the seminal book Un Paese with Italian screenwriter Cesare Zavattini.
In an interview given to Phaidon, Shore said of his creative process: “In the mid-1970s I was once invited for dinner at a friend’s loft in SoHo,’ recounts Shore. ‘At dinner was Ansel Adams. During the meal I saw Ansel drink six tall glasses of straight vodka and, at some point during our long conversation after dessert, Ansel said – and I remember him saying this in an unemotional, detached way, like a photographer observing something: ‘I had a creative hot streak in the 1940s and since then I’ve been pot boiling.’
“That experience crystalised something for me. Whenever I find myself copying myself – making pictures whose problems I’ve already solved – I give myself new issues to pursue. This could be a change of content, or of media, or of camera format, or of the formal questions I’m exploring. For me, the pictures I make are the byproduct of my explorations, not an end in themselves.”
That constant want to recreate one’s style is evident in such images. The publisher Stanley/Barker has revisited Shore’s series with a new limited edition publication of Luzzara, which includes a number of never before seen photographs.
Shore says of the series: “There was no way I could approach Luzzara as though I was not familiar with Strand’s work. At the same time, even though I was going to Luzzara exactly forty years after Strand, I was not interested in producing a re-photographic survey.
Shore was a pioneer in the use of colour photography in the 1970s, using as inspiration the art of his friend Andy Warhol. But Strand’s work – the way in which his photography became somehow timeless, transcending the here and now of the moment it was taken – also leant its weight on Shore’s time in Luzzara.
“In a certain way, Strand’s work does not need simple updating, because the kinds of people and farms and landscapes he photographed still exist in very much the same form today,” he says. But, they exist side by side with the modern world.
“A key feature of Italian life, at least to my New World eyes, is the presence of the traditional within the modern. My aim, then, was to produce a companion volume to Un Paese; to produce a group of pictures, which to the limit of the subjectivity of my vision, supplement Strand’s work.”