– Autumn/Winter 2009


In every work of genius we recognise our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humoured inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voice is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'Self-Reliance'1


Take Stephen Shore's photograph El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975 (1975). Two men could almost be said to be facing off against each other, except the man in the foreground looks off to his right, presumably as he waits for the 'Don't Walk' sign to extinguish. The man across the street, perspectivally smaller, leans almost unnecessarily - dare I say, languorously - against a post which holds a sign: 'One Way'. He looks off to his left, more or less in the same direction as the man in the foreground. Could they be looking at the same thing, casually? A relatively unimportant event that just so happens to be out of the camera's view? Immediately behind the smaller man are two blurred, moving figures, confirming what we might already have known - that this is a photograph taken with a view camera, most likely on a tripod. In an interview with Shore, Michael Fried describes a strange effect, originally identified by Shore, that occurs when the viewer shifts focus from the foreground to

  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'Self-Reliance', Essays and Poems, London: Everyman's Library Classics, 1995, p.23.

  2. Interview with Michael Fried, in Stephen Shore, London: Phaidon Press, 2008.

  3. Eric Hobsbawm, in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (ed.), 'Introduction: Inventing Tradition', The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

  4. Alex Comfort, 'Art and Social Responsibility: The Ideology of Romanticism', Afterall, issue 2, Spring/Summer 2000, pp.43-61. Originally published in A. Comfort, Art and Social Responsibility: Lectures on the Ideology of Romanticism, London: Falcon Press, 1946.