November 23, 2017
In the first scene of the Netflix crime show Mindhunter, the camera trails a car through the run-down streets of small-town Braddock, Pennsylvania. We don’t know that it’s 1977, or that someone will be offed in the next five minutes—but the setting provides clues. It’s a rainy night lit only by moody street lamps and the beams of an AMC Matador police car. The nearby buildings ooze seediness.
The scene is lonely, unglamorous, and wildly intriguing. It’s also resolutely American—and whisks viewers swiftly back to the 1970s.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the show’s creators were inspired by the pioneering U.S. photographers of that decade—namely, the great Stephen Shore, whose career spent capturing backroads, motel rooms, and lunch counters across America is currently being celebrated in a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. “Since Mindhunter is a period piece, photography from the era was hugely helpful to all of us,” the show’s cinematographer, Erik Messerschmidt, tells me from Los Angeles.