In 1977, Stephen Shore travelled across New York state, Pennsylvania, and eastern Ohio – an area in the midst of industrial decline that would eventually be known as the Rust Belt. Shore met steelworkers who had been thrown out of work by plant closures and photographed their suddenly fragile world: deserted factories, lonely bars, dwindling high streets, and lovingly decorated homes. Across these images, a prosperous middle America is seen teetering on the precipice of disastrous decline. Hope and despair alike lurk restlessly behind the surfaces of shop fronts, domestic interiors, and the fraught expressions of those who confront Shore’s 4x5” view camera.
Originally commissioned as an extended photographic report for Fortune Magazine in the vein of Walker Evans, Shore’s multifaceted investigation has only gained political salience in the intervening years. Shore’s subjects – including workers, union leaders, and family members – had voted for Jimmy Carter the year preceding his visit; now he found them disillusioned with the new president, fated to leave behind the Democratic party and become the ‘Reagan Democrats’. Through unfailingly engrossing images by one of the world’s acknowledged masters, Steel Town provides an immersive portrait of a time and place whose significance to our own is ever more urgent.
" I can't help but look at these pictures today without thinking of the economic situation in these towns, in these cities 40 years later—that these steel mills have not reopened. I think I avoided, in my work, overt political stances, but throughout Uncommon Places I'm thinking about the political ramifications of these cultural phenomena. I found that, often, political stances oversimplified the complexities of the world. And I wanted to be able to address those complexities. I think the Steeltown work is more overtly dealing with immediate economic crisis, and, therefore, more overtly political. It's hard for me to separate the political from the cultural." Stephen Shore