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View Full Version : Alec Soth, what do you think?



richardman
6-Aug-2015, 18:40
OK, I think we talked about Richard Avedon to death 3 times over. Lets hear about Alec Soth. What do our esteemed LF users think?

jp
6-Aug-2015, 18:52
I like some of his winter scenes such as http://alecsoth.com/photography/wp-content/gallery/sleeping-by-the-mississippi/2002_03zL0046_F-copy.jpg

The better-than-most-but-not-stunning-take-my-money portraits I think are overshadowed by their freak show flavor subject matter. If that draws people in, so be it, but I don't consider it to be a better photo/portrait as a result of having a strange subject. Train wrecks and car crashes draw people's eyes too.

Jac@stafford.net
6-Aug-2015, 18:57
OK, I think we talked about Richard Avedon to death 3 times over.

Why pick on Soth? Is he infringing upon your territory or something? I think the man is brilliant. I've seen him work in our area and he engages human subjects most would never dare, and he does it well.

richardman
6-Aug-2015, 19:24
Why pick on Soth? Is he infringing upon your territory or something? I think the man is brilliant. I've seen him work in our area and he engages human subjects most would never dare, and he does it well.

What gives you THAT impression? Why do you think this must be a pick-on post? You must be mistaken me for someone else.

I want to hear people's opinions on his work. What makes it work etc.

richardman
7-Aug-2015, 02:20
One area I want to explore is his approach to "travel documentary", and actually this was the reason I brought up Richard Avedon in the OP in the first place - Mr. Alec Soth spent a few years traveling and photographing for Sleeping in Mississippi. How do you contrast his work with Mr. Richard Avedon's? Which ones work better for you and why?

Kirk Gittings
7-Aug-2015, 06:36
How do you contrast his work with Mr. Richard Avedon's? Which ones work better for you and why?

And you? What do you think? I think this is an apples to oranges comparison. A better comparison might be Soth to Edward Hopper.

Corran
7-Aug-2015, 07:28
I really like his environmental images, especially in the Mississippi series. The closer-up portraits don't really interest me but when the person is in a "space" of some sort, especially the outdoors stuff, that's what I really like.

His website is terrible though.

AtlantaTerry
7-Aug-2015, 07:38
Izzit just me? Before this thread, I had never heard of Mr. Soth.

DrTang
7-Aug-2015, 07:38
I'd go see a show of nicely photographed car and train wrecks


just sayin

Kirk Gittings
7-Aug-2015, 07:54
Izzit just me? Before this thread, I had never heard of Mr. Soth.

Maybe. With the publication of "Sleeping by the Mississippi" in 2004 he has been very well known-at least in my photo circles which are pretty diverse from academics to grumpy old fart LF affectionados. :)

mdarnton
7-Aug-2015, 08:15
Something I always question about my own work is whether the representation of the subject is honest, and whether it's representative of the subject and the environment or whether the photographer is using subjects as props for his own drama. I'm not fond of the latter, more so when it's presented as some type of documentary rather than fantasy. Remember how a winner of World Press Photo 2015 was someone who shot a town in Belgium who was later accused of using photos from different towns, and misusing subjects to create his spurious opinion about the town in his essay? http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2015/feb/27/world-press-award-photos

I think Soth treads the fine line of doing that, which always leaves me uncertain about his work.

Here's a really good example I became aware of recently from another photographer: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mbs1usPOL71qaihw2o1_1280.jpg
It's a proof sheet of a very famous Diane Arbus photo that leaves me wondering how much of her work is documentary, how much pure opportunism and victimization of her subjects. I suspect the latter.

My criticism is just one opinion, coming from someone anchored in journalistic photography. The essence of what I'm saying is that the photographer has an obligation, I think, to make it clear whether he's doing documentary or fantasy, and always to avoid exploiting his subjects, in either case. I think, in that context, that Avedon clearly exploited his subjects, and I don't care for his work.

In the Richard Man context, I think the work you're doing is directly honest and non exploitative.

Drew Wiley
7-Aug-2015, 08:27
Soth to Hopper? Now that's apples to oranges, Kirk. Funny thing about Hopper (whom I admire greatly), is that he wasn't taken seriously at the beginning - just
too contemporaneous and allegedly deadpan. I had the advantage of hearing opinions about him from the previous generation of painters in analogous genre.
The new kid on the block, so to speak, whose work wasn't "socially relevant". He suffered over his paintings. Not spontaneous at all. Photography has to be just the opposite or it isn't photography. I don't know anything about Soth's actual mindset. Nothing much to say. Nice images. Don't care much for the pretentious staged
stuff in a prededing post, however.

Richard Wasserman
7-Aug-2015, 08:32
affectionados. :)

Affectionados. Brilliant, can I use this Kirk?

I'm a big fan of Alec Soth. I find his work to be very evocative and nuanced. He does not claim to be a documentary photographer. An interesting interview with him when "Sleeping by the Mississippi" came out—

http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html

Jac@stafford.net
7-Aug-2015, 08:34
Izzit just me? Before this thread, I had never heard of Mr. Soth.

Yes, it is just you. In fact, of the hundreds of articles about Alec Soth you are mentioned very often as the only guy who never heard of him. Now that is ruined!

Looking back, I've known of Soth's work for longer than I thought. Time flies.

His photo of * Peter's Houseboat surprised me when it appeared. I live a modest walk from the place, and I have passed by it often. The area is Latsch Island (http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/photo-galleries/2012/10/23/houseboats-at-latsch-island/), on the Mississippi River in Minnesota. His particular photo is the penultimate image of our small island community. (For another view see Drake Hokanson's (6x17cm) photo here (http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/p/648656/7978020/1292806195600/boat+houses+latch+island+winona+mn+10-02+mr02-07-01+web.jpg).)

Back to Alec - to me his work brings a sense of loneliness, the Winter pictures and interiors in particular. It is very difficult to make photos of impact as straightforward and tightly constrained as his are. Simple is elusive. His work endures as a long series, each photo building a large, complex, rather dark, and to me, honest image. I could never own just one of his pictures or bare seeing one in isolation.

Thanks to richardman for starting this thread.

(* Actually the term is Boathouse here - a floating structure which originally stored a boat - a boat garage converted to a homestead.)

Drew Wiley
7-Aug-2015, 09:29
I'd like to see an actual exhibition, but wouldn't go too far out of my way to do so. Maybe I'd be more enthusiastic if I had a Midwestern background. And as far as his work in the South, it just doesn't hold that raw pseudo-amateurish charm that Eggleston's small camera work did. But this is a very tentative opinion on my behalf, largely due to superficial knowledge, since as you should all know by know, I don't accept the web as a judicious standard.

axs810
7-Aug-2015, 10:23
Izzit just me? Before this thread, I had never heard of Mr. Soth.


https://youtu.be/bw3lBv7fVM8

If you don't know of Alec Soth then check out his work online and watch this video and listen to him talk.

AuditorOne
7-Aug-2015, 11:39
What do I think?

He's a good photographer. I love his work but I can't afford it. As is true of most artists I admire.

Once in awhile I run into a good one that I like.

AtlantaTerry
7-Aug-2015, 11:41
Izzit just me? Before this thread, I had never heard of Mr. Soth.

OK, I wanted to be fair so I went to his website and looked at every photograph there.

First impression: snapshots, nothing special.

Then from what I read in his biography he shoots everything on 8x10" film.

OK, I can appreciate the effort that took.

My non-ivory tower lasting impression: snapshots using 8x10" film.

AtlantaTerry
7-Aug-2015, 11:46
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/penultimate

penultimate
[pi-nuhl-tuh-mit]

adjective
1.
next to the last:
the penultimate scene of the play.
2.
of or relating to a penult or the next to the last syllable in a word:
In the wordappropriate, -pri- is the penultimate syllable.

richardman
7-Aug-2015, 12:10
And you? What do you think? I think this is an apples to oranges comparison. A better comparison might be Soth to Edward Hopper.

Dear Kirk, unlike (most?) people here, while I have a long term interest in photography, I have been more interested in the works of HCB, Eugene Smith etc. rather than large format photographers, until.. around 2012 when I picked up a large format camera. So to be honest, people like Sally Mann, Richard Avedon, Alec Soth, etc. were not in my radar. Indeed, I have to admit that I have not heard of Edward Hopper before. I will take a look. Although as Mr. Drew Wiley just remarked that in his opinion, that Soth and Hopper is the apples to oranges...

As to what I think, I have only seen Mr. Soth's work on websites, as I could not afford his books. As an aside, I am a book enthusiast - I have all of Salgado's books, most of HCB's, and Eugene Smith's etc. - but I do not "get" Stephen Shore. As I mentioned elsewhere, initially I didn't care for Mr. Avedon's work, mainly because of his reputation, but now I have grown to appreciate it very much... Anyway, that's really a long winded answer to say - Sleeping in Mississippi seems pretty good to me, not brilliant level, but pretty good. I don't quite get Songbirds. So just want to hear what people think.

There seems to be an undercurrent that I am trying to find faults or cut people down. That's not my intentions. I am looking for the good, and of course criticism, but not an unadulterated pile-on.

Thank you.

Drew Wiley
7-Aug-2015, 12:12
Oh, I think he's a solid hitter with a lot of competence. Some of his images are a bit too conspicuously "arty" for me and reminiscent of 70's themes, though he does it all very well, it seems. And I'm not a big fan of soft Portra off-color. But it's his main tool, apparently, and very proficient in that respect. I'd like to see his black and white work in print form rather than the web. Maybe someday. A very versatile guy. I've heard the live interviews before. Intelligent. Glad he's getting attention and making a go of it. Just doesn't influence me. I wouldn't mind owning a high-quality book of some of his images.

Jac@stafford.net
7-Aug-2015, 12:12
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/penultimate

penultimate
[pi-nuhl-tuh-mit]

adjective
1.
next to the last:
the penultimate scene of the play.

Pardon my Britishism, but it was there I was educated. It also means/suggests that the referenced (usually art) is the very last likely to be created, but leaves open a humble allowance that another is possible, yet unknown.

richardman
7-Aug-2015, 12:16
Here's a really good example I became aware of recently from another photographer: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mbs1usPOL71qaihw2o1_1280.jpg
It's a proof sheet of a very famous Diane Arbus photo that leaves me wondering how much of her work is documentary, how much pure opportunism and victimization of her subjects. I suspect the latter.



Wow, great find! THANKS!

Ms. Diane Arbus' works always makes me uncomfortable, which I think, is what makes things work for her. It's great to see that contact sheet. On one hand, I can see why she selected THE photo, but on the other hand, it would not be the one I feel comfortable to show the world...

Kodachrome25
7-Aug-2015, 12:17
With the publication of "Sleeping by the Mississippi" in 2004 he has been very well known-at least in my photo circles which are pretty diverse from academics to grumpy old fart LF affectionados. :)

I love that work and the story he told us about it while speaking at Look3 this year was sooooo goooood! He was funny as heck, he had no idea what to say in going up against the likes of Sally Mann and David Alan Harvey so he made this kind of "Wheel of Fortune" in that he would spin it and then it would land on a topic. Everyone had a great time with the guy and he was super down to earth and modest when I spoke to him about Songbook which he happily signed.

I think he is fantastic and he really cares deeply for his subjects often engaging in life long friendships.

jp
7-Aug-2015, 13:50
Now people have learned about Soth AND Hopper. Good educational thread for the participants! Really.

Drew Wiley
7-Aug-2015, 13:56
Hopper had tremendous influence of 70's color photographers, though I'd argue that the more they tried to copy him, the less productive they were. Once they found their own feet, in their own medium, then the influence was more beneficial. Painter's can do what we cannot, especially in the use of color. Hopper has a
whole different ethos to today's audience, which views his work in a nostalgic sense, not as it was perceived in his own time. If any photographer has done a good
analogous job, in my opinion it would be Rbt Adams, who didn't attempt the variable of color at all.

mike rosenlof
7-Aug-2015, 19:40
There is an exhibit of Soth's work at the Denver Art Museum running until late November. Come see!

sun of sand
7-Aug-2015, 19:44
I like his lighting and or printing

I think the atmosphere in his photos is that of distant suspended reality and is the true common
Theme
He could take pretty stunning pics of anything

His scenes are waiting for our arrival

pdh
8-Aug-2015, 00:10
I'd never heard of him either.

My impression having looked only at the website is rather like AtlantaTerry's - quite "snapshotty". Nothing held my interest for more than a moment or triggered the desire to go back and look at any photograph a second time. Perfectly nice, but nothing to enthuse about.

If I walked into a gallery and saw a properly curated exhibition, however, perhaps my impression would change. Or perhaps he is the sort of photographer who places his work in a (verbal) narrative context that I have overlooked.

Interesting for me to contrast this with another thread I that has appeared recently - that about John Leuba - where my response to the work was instantly much much less lukewarm.

Darin Boville
8-Aug-2015, 01:27
Soth has some new stuff at the Denver Art Museum, there for another month or so. About twenty large black and white prints. Made to look like something you'd send into a newspaper for reproduction--low, sort of dead contrast.

http://denverartmuseum.org/exhibitions/alec-soth-colorado-dispatch

Note: The picts on the web page have been adjusted to look bright and contrasty. Not how they look in real life.

They also have his most recent newspaper thingy in the gift shop. Haven't had a look at it yet--I've got monographs stacked several feet high at this point that I haven't had time to go through.

Also at the Denver Museum of Art is a nice show of Barbara Bosworth's work. I've only seen one or two of her prints before, not counting small reproductions and web stuff. Very cool. Highlight of the day for me.

--Darin

Greg Davis
8-Aug-2015, 17:59
He has stated several times that he edits his work with the book format in mind. For him, the sequential narrative is very important.

Greg Davis
8-Aug-2015, 18:01
There is also a documentary film about him making his series "Somewhere to Disappear" entitled the same.

Richard Johnson
9-Aug-2015, 23:01
.... Here's a really good example I became aware of recently from another photographer: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mbs1usPOL71qaihw2o1_1280.jpg
It's a proof sheet of a very famous Diane Arbus photo that leaves me wondering how much of her work is documentary, how much pure opportunism and victimization of her subjects. I suspect the latter.


The story about that shoot was that she was photographing the kid in the park back when strangers were allowed to photograph other people's kids... and she asked him what it would be like if the grenade went off... and that's the face the kid made.

But for fifty years since most people have assumed the poor kid is some kind of mentally deranged freak like Adam Lanza or some serial killer.

It's a great photo but a more emphatic person may have declined to publish the photo out of deference to the consequences to the child. New Yawkers though....

richardman
9-Aug-2015, 23:32
The story about that shoot was that she was photographing the kid in the park back when strangers were allowed to photograph other people's kids... and she asked him what it would be like if the grenade went off... and that's the face the kid made.

But for fifty years since most people have assumed the poor kid is some kind of mentally deranged freak like Adam Lanza or some serial killer.

It's a great photo but a more emphatic person may have declined to publish the photo out of deference to the consequences to the child. New Yawkers though....

Perhaps I should start a new thread ...

Just found out that Ms. Arbus committed suicide when she was only 49. Did she have inner demons to deal with? I should see if I can find a biography of her...

pdh
10-Aug-2015, 00:48
It's a great photo but a more emphatic person may have declined to publish the photo out of deference to the consequences to the child.

What have those consequences been?

Frank_E
10-Aug-2015, 02:23
there is actually a wikipedia page which relates to Arbus's picture "boy with grenade". The page includes quotes from that boy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_with_Toy_Hand_Grenade_in_Central_Park

pdh
10-Aug-2015, 14:19
So, if wiki is accurate, it seems he was a bit irritated at the time, then a bit later in life quite angry, and then came to feel very sanguine about it.

So not a scarring experience by the sounds of things. I can think of a few things I experienced at that sort of age where I've gone through the same sort of feelings.

Carl J
10-Aug-2015, 20:13
....

Also at the Denver Museum of Art is a nice show of Barbara Bosworth's work. I've only seen one or two of her prints before, not counting small reproductions and web stuff. Very cool. Highlight of the day for me.

--Darin

Barbara Bosworth is well worth a look, very interesting choice of subject matter for an 8x10 photographer (portraits of people with wild birds, for instance). She teaches at the Massachusetts College of ART (Nicholas Nixon, Abelardo Morell, Laura McPhee). Had never heard of her until I stumbled across some wonderful short video interviews of her work as Artist in Residence along the New England Trail. I've picked up a couple of her monographs, she seems to move easily between 8x10 black & white and color.

http://barbarabosworth.com

DrTang
11-Aug-2015, 07:36
[QUOTE=mdarnton;1266848]


It's a proof sheet of a very famous Diane Arbus photo that leaves me wondering how much of her work is documentary,
[QUOTE]

who the heck ever thought her stuff was 'documentary?

sperdynamite
11-Aug-2015, 08:15
Alec Soth is one of my favorite contemporary photographers. If you had the good fortune to read his now defunct blog you'll know how thoughtful he can be in his writing about photography and art. He also exists outside of the 'MFA and a long paper on theory' club of fine artists, which appeals to me. It's not LF, but I particularly enjoy his project 'Dog Day's Bogota.' It's all Mamiya 6 work while he was in Bogota adopting a child. His work is masterfully considered and executed, particularly his portraits. I saw some of his work at the small gallery in the Minneapolis Art Institute while I was in college and that cemented in me that I need to go 8x10. The print just sang from the wall. Since his success with Sleeping by the Mississippi he's had a bit of over exposure if you ask me, especially in the Minneapolis area, but he's probably the foremost working fine art photographer from that area so I understand. His books probably sell pretty well. I still kick myself for not buying a Sleeping by the Mississippi first edition.

I don't think that he does all 8x10 now, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if Songbook was digital. Can't say that I know anything about whether it is or not, but just saying it wouldn't surprise me. He has said he has nothing against digital, and since he's been doing assignment work I could see him occasionally working that way. I think his larger prints are now pigment prints from drum scans. I shouldn't get too into the technical aspects of his work though, it's stands on it's own merits IMO.

fuegocito
11-Aug-2015, 08:37
Here is an interview he did on Photographic Journal

http://thephotographicjournal.com/interviews/alec-soth/

johnmsanderson
16-Sep-2015, 11:19
. I can appreciate the non linear narrative of his books.