Category: Photography

Fresh Astonishments

Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974
By Stephen Shore

Photography to me is like haiku. They both draw their power from what they evoke or imply because a photo can only show so much and three lines can only say so much. I don’t feel their forms are impoverished because they could say or show more. Photography doesn’t need to be film and haiku doesn’t need to be a novel. All forms have their merits.

In an article in The New Yorker (where this post gets its name) Peter Schjeldahl says Stephen Shore’s photography is subliminal, understated and, quoting Walt Whitman, artless. Whitman recommended poets adopt “a perfectly transparent, plate-glassy style, artless” and this reminded me of Cor van den Heuvel’s introduction to The Haiku Anthology when he said:

Haiku, for the reader, is wordless because those few words are invisible. We as readers look right through them. There is nothing between us and the moment.

Artless. Wordless.

I’ve been a fan of Shore’s photography since I discovered him years ago because his work reminded me of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. The father and son in that story journey through midwest America to reunite their family and the towns they stop off at along the way are just like those in Shore’s work. (They may be the very same places.) When I see those photos I feel the melancholy of Paris, Texas and like haiku those photos always stay fresh because they’re incomplete and I, who completes the poem by reading it or the photo by viewing it, am a different person each time.