The seemingly mundane photographs of Alec Soth belie the intrigue and curiousity aroused by them. On the surface they look so ordinary and yet I find that I keep being drawn back to them – just what is so intriguing about Soth’s photographs?
From the Photobook – Dog Days, Bogota
Part photo-journalism, and part artistic expression, they reveal a curiosity about the myth or folklore surrounding the particular subject matter at hand; whether it is what life is like along the Mississipi river in the deep American south, the US mid-west, Bogota Colombia or life as an assistant working at the highest level of Parisian haute-couture, Soth is able to transcend social class, societal superficialities of society, and reveal the underlying issues surrounding the life of his subjects.
But is it photo-journalistic? Many of the scenes are staged, with the subjects who would naturally smile at a camera, are being told to look a certain way, to have a certain expression. It is a surrealistic version of reality that is fictional but closer to reality than what is portrayed in typical Hollywood movies, which usually express noble ideals, an idealized version of what the world should be (or hyperized in the case of action movies).
From the photobook – The Last Days of W.
From The Photobook – Broken Manual
From the Photobook – Sleeping By The Mississippi
A good summary of Alec Soth’s photographs can be found in Bonnie With A Photograph Of An Angel, Port Gibson, Mississippi (2000); a beehived woman dressed neatly and seated properly holds a gold framed photograph of an angel-shaped wisp of cloud. An ordinary southern woman, probably never got over the 70’s, whom one wouldn’t bat an eye if you saw her in person, or maybe judge her for her hairdo and kitsch faith, but in the context of Soth’s photobook, her sincerity commands respect and captivates the viewer. She might be kitschy, and out of style, but she’s sincere. And that is the essence of Soth’s work; its nothing flashy, but its sincere and it doesn’t lie.