About the Photographer
American, b. 1956
Paul Shambroom has spent the greater part of the 1980s and 90s creating two series of photographs, both of which document specific, uniquely American manifestations of political action. The first, Nuclear Weapons (1989-2001), presents the highest and most hidden levels of power in the United States by documenting the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal. The second, Meetings (1999-2003), is a study of grass-roots democracy in action – elected civic leaders interacting at municipal and community meetings throughout the United States. These two series, though seemingly at separate ends of an abstract spectrum of power, raise questions, when considered together, about the disjuncture between local action and federal process. As far as they exist as documents, Shambroom's photographs provide us with visual access to restricted, out-of-the-way places. Although it is tempting to reduce the poles of power represented in the two series into binary oppositions of anonymity/specificity, abstract/specific, and powerful/weak, these are overly simplified readings. Shambroom questions the illusion of hierarchies of power, and ultimately posits a more optimistic possibility: that power and responsibility exists in the individual, whether within, in spite of, or parallel to totalizing discourses. In this respect, Shambroom's work can be read as a provocative call for personal and collective change.
In November of 2004, after three years contemplating a response to the events of September 11th, Shambroom began photographing U.S. training facilities, equipment, and personnel involved in preparations to combat future terrorist attacks. The Security series visits large-scale training sites like New Mexico's "Terror Town" and Texas' "Disaster City," and features portraits of first responders clad in hazmat suits, military gear, and specialized equipment. The confident stances of isolated figures against picturesque backdrops enhance the heroic mood suggested by the nearly life-size canvas prints, but with individual identity obscured by masks and visors, the tone is ultimately more ambivalent than romantic.
Working as an artist and photographer since the mid-1980s, Paul Shambroom studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He has exhibited extensively at galleries and museums, with works shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Shambroom's works are also held in the permanent collections at the above museums, as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago; the Milwaukee Art Museum; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Museum of Contemporary Photography presented a mid-career retrospective of his work in 2003. Shambroom currently lives and works in Minnesota.