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Life at the margin, interview with Stephen Shore

© Stephen Shore, St. Sabas Monastery, Judean Desert , 2009
© Stephen Shore, St. Sabas Monastery, Judean Desert , 2009

Life at the margin

For the international photography project This Place, the well known French photographer Frédéric Brenner invited 10 colleagues to work in Israel and the West Bank in outstanding residencies. One amongst this group was the internationally acclaimed American photographer Stephen Shore.

Interview with Stephen Shore

Felix Koltermann: Mr. Shore, how did it come about that you participated in This Place?

Stephen Shore: Frédéric Brenner contacted me in 2007 and it was at a time when I was looking for a new project and I think the timing was just right. It presented a number of challenges that I wanted to engage in.

FK: What were these challenges?

SS: It is a much more politically charged situation then what I have dealt with in the past. And I wanted to see what I could do in that climate. I didn’t want to take pictures of something, not take pictures that were about the politics. I am not even sure if pictures can be about politics. It is a challenge to work in an environment that has that charge. I wanted to make pictures that don’t depend on that, that exist independently of that, but recognize all dimensions of the culture.

FK: You worked in Israel and in the West Bank. What was the difference and why did you decide to work in both regions?

SS: One of my main interests was in the landscape, on the one side raw landscape but as well how the land was used by different people who were there and how it is claimed by people. I wanted to look for this over the whole country. I find the landscape in the West Bank particular beautiful. It is a very powerful landscape. There was a harshness to it that I find interesting.

© Stephen Shore, Hebron, 2011
© Stephen Shore, Hebron, 2011

FK: How did you find the spots you worked on? Have you done prior research or did you have someone that introduced you?

SS: I had a guide, an assistant, who I worked with all the time and he knew the country extraordinarily well. He not only drove across it but has hiked, spent days walking across the Judean Desert. So I relied a lot on his knowledge. And as you know it is as well a very small country. So if you got out for several months, from 8 in the morning to 8 or 9 at night every day, 7 days a week, you cover a lot of territory and you get to cover the country very well.

FK: Was it the first time that you were there or did you have prior experience in Israel that you could rely on?

SS: I was in Israel in the mid-90s where I photographed on a couple of archeological digs and actually in my book I include some of that work. So I spent at least three weeks there, a week on every dig and a week just driving around. So I was a little familiar. And besides that, all the photographers that participated in “This Place” went on an explanatory trip that lasted a couple of weeks, where we had guided tours to different places and conversations with people from all points of view.

FK: How did you experience the country during these trips in comparison to your first trip in the 90s?

SS: Quite differently. Back then there was no security fence. I would get my car and drive around freely and the only way I would know whether I get through a Palestinian or Israeli town was the signage. There was no demarcation and there were no checkpoints.

© Stephen Shore, Off of 443, Harbata, 2011
© Stephen Shore, Off of 443, Harbata, 2011

FK: How did it feel to travel in this totally different situation?

SS: Well I felt less comfortable. I don’t know if my guide was exaggerating or not, but he would say “We can’t stop in that town”, for example a small West Bank town. And it was not a restricted area as Area A, so he could go in. But he said this wouldn’t be safe. And I didn’t feel this at all when I was there in the 90s, when I could go anywhere. On the other hand my son came to visit me on one of the trips and I took him to Ramallah for a day and we had a wonderful time.

FK: Was there any moment in the project where you were working together all the 12 photographers that participated in This Place?

SS: No. But every year we would have a meeting where we would see each other’s work. So we knew what the other photographers were doing. With This Place it was the first time that I was with a group where we had the same subject matter and saw each other’s work and I thought that it was a very interesting process because you knew what the others were doing and would learn from the other people. Not that you would copy it, but it was actually freeing because if you try to take on a whole complex country, it is not within the realm of one photographer to do it.

FK: Mr. Shore, thank you very much for the interview.

More informations about This Place are available on the project website. The next venue of the travelling exhibition will be the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

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Felix Koltermann

Felix Koltermann is a German freelance journalist and photography critic. His main fields of interest are documentary photography and photojournalism. He is about to… More »

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