I am a huge fan of photographer and storyteller Alec Soth. I’ve been collecting most of his book works and independent publishing projects, created under the imprint Little Brown Mushroom, for the past ten years. My obsession with his work began, like so many people, with the release of Sleeping By The Mississippi in 2004. However, it was Soth’s following project, Niagara, that cemented my love affair with his work.
Having grown up in Buffalo, with family at one point living in Niagara Falls, I am all too familiar with the bittersweet scenes of the former honeymoon capitol of the United States. Downtrodden, seedy and cheap, Niagara Falls, New York acts as a foil to the other side of the river, where Clifton Hill, beautiful botanical gardens, and tchotchke shops keep the majority of tourists within Canadian borders. It would be so easy for a photographer to make a blunt, careless, irony-driven portrayal of the economic hardships this area of the state has endured. Soth doesn’t. His lens is loving, respectful, curious. When I look at Soth’s work, I see an artist searching for a sense of self by using a camera to examine the lives of others. This is one of my favorite pictures Soth has made:
(You can see a better image directly on Soth’s website here.)
Last night, I finally had the opportunity to hear Soth lecture at The Portland Art Museum. I was enthralled. He spoke so eloquently and with such sincerity about his work. He shared his thoughts on photography and storytelling, the Internet, independent publishing, the history of photography, social anxiety, working collaboratively, making books, the desire to buy an actual cave, falling out of love, and then falling back in love with photography, the act of wandering in art making (physically, creatively and intellectually), and social appropriateness and inappropriateness in image making.
And there it was, laid out in a meandering, enthralling lecture: everything I have been thinking about while making photographs but was unable to articulate. I swear, my eyes welled with tears as Soth elucidated his thoughts concerning the contrasting working methods of Robert Adams versus Weegee, of respectful distances versus aggressive involvement in a moment.
The lecture was sold out. I wasn’t expecting a signing after the talk either, or else I would have brought a copy of Niagara for a personal inscription. I went to the lecture alone, a two hour drive to a city I lived in over ten years ago. My social anxiety was through the roof, and my heart was so tender after the lecture that I couldn’t stand to be shoulder to shoulder with hoards of much more nicely dressed, white-toothed, perfumed photographers.
So I raised my camera over head, clicked a button, turned around and walked out into the sweet Portland springtime air.
Thank you, Alec Soth. Congratulations on the Guggenheim. Wish I could have said it in person.