Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Alec Soth - portraits

(Mary, Wisconsin 2005)

Alec Soth is certainly the wunderkind of the moment - though deservedly so imo. Sleeping by the Mississippi was good. I think Niagara was actually better - though as much as I enjoyed them I must say I find both mildly depressing.... But it wasn't until I hunted around his site that I came across his portraits. The two books just mentioned include quite a few portraits, but most of these seem a little different. They seem to be a combination of commissions and work taken in the course of other projects. I must sayI really quite like them.

(Günter Grass & Gerhard Steidl, 2004)

There's a freshness about them as well as a vitality - you feel like you could get to know most of these people. There's also the clarity that comes from using 8x10, which isn't purely visual, and comes across even on the web.

There is an essay about the portraits on his site:
"Soth is most interested in shooting what is new to him. Rarely does he photograph friends, family, or familiar surroundings. His vision is driven by curiosity. He credits his solitary wanderings for heightening his awareness—for his ability to spot the right person, even in a crowd. On a recent assignment in China, he waited at the entrance of a subway. “I probably watched five hundred people pass by the tunnel entrance,” says Soth. “I knew the instant that I saw this one young man that I wanted to take his portrait.”

Describing the experience of meeting Odessa (Odessa, Joelton, Tennessee, 2004) while on assignment for Life magazine in Tennessee, Soth recalls: “Odessa was visiting her boyfriend while he played war games in Joelton. I was attracted to her the second I saw her. The attraction is not unlike falling in love at first sight. It is a physical, not cognitive, reaction. I became interested in the ‘idea’ of her.” Soth wondered what her story was. “But this isn’t the point. I’m interested in the beauty of the mystery. I’m standing here; she’s standing there. In the space between there is a gulf, a mystery, and for me, an attraction.” That is what Soth seeks to behold and to capture: the invisible gulf, the space that connects us, holding everything together...." more

(Girl with flowers, Beijing, 2004)

Now I just want to see how he got on with Cat Power... - he'd mentioned on his blog he wanted to photograph her et voilà! (so, Madeleine Peyroux, if you are reading this I'm free :-) )

(Jim Harrison, Livingston, Montana, 2004)


gravitas et nugalis said...


Take flat even light (such as a soft, overcast day), ordinary (or ordinary looking) people and photograph them in a deadpan way, often head on. Preferably with big film (4x5 or 8x10) - oh and if you can throw the words adolescence, pubescent or teenage in there - or a scrawny semi-naked long haired guy - all the better (though non of it even comes close to Sally Mann's or Andrea Modica's or even Lauren Greenfield's take on those first three themes).

tim atherton said...

cmmon mark - you're telling me you can't read the difference in these? It's one reason I posted them for the contratst (and why I speceficially selected the ones I did)

These just aren't deconstextualised in the same way - they have much more of the "implied/captioned narratives of sorts" that Luis talked of

tim atherton said...

I should add, I think Soth much more often succeeds at what the humdrum ones are trying to do, but never quite manage to (yep - big camera and all - which is used for all the right reasons, not the wrong one)