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Book Review – Steel Town by Stephen Shore – MACK Books

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The first time I met Stephen Shore was in 2019 at Photo London, but I have known and been influenced by his work for far longer. At Photo London (during the Press Event) Shore was interviewed, alongside my friend Mary McCartney (daughter of Paul) by William A Ewing.  Shore’s latest release by Mack Books entitled Steel Town combines a series of images that he took in 1977 when he travelled across New York state, Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio – the latter in the midst of industrial decline and soon to be known as the Rust Belt.

Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore, image from Steel Town (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

It was in 1977 when Fortune Magazine commissioned Stephen Shore to produce an extended photographic report in connection with the industrial decline across western New York state Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, an area that would eventually be known as the Rust Belt. Over the course of a week at the end of October, Shore worked with his 5×4” view camera photographing in the towns and factories and meeting some of the workers and their families. This series was published with the title “Hard Times Come to Steeltown”. Shore was aged 30 at the time and is now the author of over 40 books. He expressed this was “the most extensive commission I had done for a magazine to that date”.

photography
Stephen Shore, image from Steel Town (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

MACK books have produced a book that is wholly in keeping with the sombre mood of the images Shore has created. The steel textured colour cover supplanted with one image sets the tone, matching both the physicality of steel and metaphorically the starkness within.

Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore, image from Steel Town (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

Shore’s images capture the deterioration of life, homes on the brink of collapse, fractured cars, workers, union leaders and family members. Most had voted for Jimmy Carter the year before and Shore found many were now disenchanted with their new president.  Mass redundancies, tripling the unemployment within one summer pushed many into poverty. Initially, the people of Steeltown challenged what was happening, confident the Democratic Party had their back, staging demonstrations against factory closures and the like. Unfortunately, the Party had undergone a critical shift in its beliefs, so keen were they to contend with the economy. The newly in power Democrats, leaned more to the right, than the left and consequently Carter began a massive deregulation programme.

Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore, image from Steel Town (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

This book contains portraits of newly redundant steelworkers within the fragility of their newly formed environment, derelict factories, desolate bars, as the buoyant prosperity of the previous two decades, following World War II, began to fade. In sharp contrast to the UK, I might add, following the War our debt sucked the life out of most people. Suicides, drug overdoses and further self destructive behaviour began to rise in Steeltown. In one impromptu speech, a worker told a Washington Post reporter ‘we’re fed up and we’re scared, why not give Reagan a chance?”. Reagan was voted in Ohio by November and attempted to redirect the anger from Wall Street and more towards crack addicts, feminists, immigrants and any other groups he felt the Democrats supported. Battlegrounds were drawn up between the two parties which only led to an increase of racism and sexism, none of which helped the people of Steeltown.

Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore, image from Steel Town (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

Bill Clinton, leading the Democrats, later regained power, he supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organisation – diverting more jobs to Mexico and China. Steeltown meanwhile festered for the next 20 years. His wife, Hilary won the Mahoning Valley by the smallest of margins, 3% in 2016. In 2020 it had swung Republican.

Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore, image from Steel Town (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

Battles over policies but also what was morally right/wrong raged. Trump supporters vs Democrats, two opposing sides, seethed. Many of the disillusioned Steeltown residents, so full of hatred could not see what was happening, as tax cuts to the affluent piled up.

Shore’s Steel Town is a book tracing history, as much as a photographic endeavour, it is not meant to be a political book but as so often in life, our lives are lead by it. It is a book about life and death, not just of people but of businesses. It is about ‘Steel’ Town teetering to ‘Steal’ Town, it is a book about change, adversity and hard times, about a life of two parts. And it is one you should buy.

Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore, image from Steel Town (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

Steel Town by Stephen Shore (2021), published by MACK, Printed in Italy

A Look Inside ‘Steel Town’ by Stephen Shore

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Joanne Carter, creator of the world’s most popular mobile photography and art website— TheAppWhisperer.com— TheAppWhisperer platform has been a pivotal cyberspace for mobile artists of all abilities to learn about, to explore, to celebrate and to share mobile artworks. Joanne’s compassion, inclusivity, and humility are hallmarks in all that she does, and is particularly evident in the platform she has built. In her words, “We all have the potential to remove ourselves from the centre of any circle and to expand a sphere of compassion outward; to include everyone interested in mobile art, ensuring every artist is within reach”, she has said.
Promotion of mobile artists and the art form as a primary medium in today’s art world, has become her life’s focus. She has presented lectures bolstering mobile artists and their art from as far away as the Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea to closer to her home in the UK at Focus on Imaging. Her experience as a jurist for mobile art competitions includes: Portugal, Canada, US, S Korea, UK and Italy. And her travels pioneering the breadth of mobile art includes key events in: Frankfurt, Naples, Amalfi Coast, Paris, Brazil, London.
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She is currently writing several books, all related to mobile art and is always open to requests for new commissions for either writing or photography projects or a combination of both. Please contact her at: joanne@theappwhisperer.com

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