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4-Part Variation is one of several black and white series shot by photographer Stephen Shore during a trip to Amarillo, Texas, in 1969. As the title suggests, 4-Part Variation is made up of four black and white images which are repeated and arranged into a grid of thirty-two photographs. The subject matter of the work is a car (presumably Shore’s hire car), shot from different points in the landscape. This series was made during a period in Shore’s work when he was experimenting with ideas of conceptual and serial practice. The use of seriality and repetition in this work suggests the idea that a single photograph is only significant in terms of its place in the series as a whole. This kind of conceptual photographic practice can be seen in relation to the conceptual artists of the 1960s, who used photography to capture sequential visual records of landscapes in particular locations.
Shore’s interest in conceptual practices was influenced by the developments of conceptual art in New York in the late 1960s, particularly by time spent in Andy Warhol’s Factory, where he often took photographs. This work is associated with his solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1971, where he was the first living photographer to have a one-person show. The exhibition and this work represent Shore’s adoption of conceptual practices and is an important precursor to his major series American Surfaces, which he began in 1972. Other series made by Shore during this period – and which relate to conceptual practices, seriality and repetition – include July 22, 1969 / July 23 1969, where Shore photographed his friend Michael Marsh at thirty-minute intervals over a period of twenty-four hours, and Circle No.1 1969, which consists of a series of eight photographs of a man standing in a barren rocky desert, where each photograph is shot from the direction of a different compass point.
Reflecting after the close of his exhibition at the Metropolitan, Shore commented: ‘You’d think this is the kind of thing everyone would dream about – a show at a big museum – but it was traumatic for a 23 year old in some ways. I thought, “Oh my god, what do I do next?” So it really put an end to that work’ (quoted in Lange, Fried and Sternfeld 2007, p.48). This encouraged Shore to abandon this particular type of work and forced him into a new direction, which led to him beginning his American Surfaces series in 1972.
Heinz Liesbrock, Stephen Shore: Photographs 1973–1993, Munich 1994.
Christy Lange, Michael Fried and Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, New York 2007.