Straightforward citizenship drives Paul Shambroom to make pictures about complex social topics. Whether it’s small-town council members or safety professionals ready for the worst possible disasters, he explains that, “sure, I may have a critical eye about American issues, but I do feel responsible, as a citizen. That may be a nuclear bomb at that missile silo, but it’s also my bomb because I pay taxes.”
Shambroom made a decision long ago to photograph mostly American settings, people, and topics. The result has been a string of internationally acclaimed projects: Meetings, about local politics; Face to Face With the Bomb, about Cold War weaponry; and Picturing Power, which is a mid-career survey of several big projects. He doggedly creates “giant databases” to prepare for visiting his subjects; even with nuclear-weapons sites, he’s usually able to gain access.
The results have been not polarizing, but energizing to his larger audience. One critic referred to Shambroom’s “studied neutrality,” and he prefers to discuss his works with audiences, to keep a dialogue bubbling along about democracy and the uses of imagery. He’s genuinely curious about how we all picture ourselves, even through snapshot sites on the Internet.
Shambroom’s work has been collected widely in both museum and corporate collections, with exhibitions in multiple countries. Represented by multiple galleries, he’s received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim, Jerome, McKnight, and Bush foundations, as well as the Minnesota State Arts Board. Most notably, he was given the career-topping Bush’s Enduring Vision Award in 2010.