Alec Soth, Stacey, South Plains, Texas, 2004, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth's Portrayal of America, Suitable for a Career Retrospective

Alec Soth, untitled, 2006, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth, Surf Ballroom, 1999, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth, Mother and Daughter, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1999, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth, Kym, Polish Palace, Minneapolis, MN, 2000-2002, chromogenic print. Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth, Peter's Houseboat, Winona, Minnesota, 2002, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth, Enchanted Forest (36), Texas, 2006, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth, Mother and Daughter, Davenport, Iowa, 2002, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

 

Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave.
612-375-7600
Minneapolis

From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America
September 12, 2010-January 2, 2011

Within the wanderlust embodied in Alec Soth’s photographs is an impulse to uncover narratives that comprise the American experience. From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, is the first major U.S. survey to explore the past 15 years of work by one of the most compelling voices in contemporary photography.

While Soth’s practice has taken him throughout the world, from Paris to London to Bogota to the Republic of Georgia, the Walker exhibition focuses specifically on his pictures made in the United States. Featuring over 100 photographs, the presentation includes early black-and-white images of Minneapolis working-class taverns, as well as examples from his well-known series Sleeping by the Mississippi, NIAGARA, Fashion Magazine, and The Last Days of W.

Also debuting in the exhibition is a new series, Broken Manual, as well as other bodies of work not exhibited until now.

Soth’s working process is firmly situated in a tradition established by such photographers as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Sternfeld, whose work has at its heart the American road and whose images persistently capture average individuals and everyday settings.

Soth’s is a distinct perspective, however, one in which the act of wandering, the method of embracing serendipity when seeking out his subjects, and the process of telling are as resonant as the photographic record of his remarkable encounters.

When considered together, these pictures probe the idiosyncrasies of people, objects, and places he discovers on his journeys, and form an offbeat and absorbing portrait of the American experience.

Soth’s method of engaging his subjects, he has said, is like “web surfing in the real world,” following leads with the fervor of a detective, and allowing each encounter with a place or individual to segue to the next through a kind of free-associative research.

As the journeys unfold, he delves deeper into stories real and imagined. Though rich in detail and often exquisitely composed, his works evidence careful restraint; it is often what is not revealed which most piques our imagination. Working primarily with a cumbersome 8x10 field camera, which elicits remarkable detail and color, he must spend considerable time setting up his shots, often leaving his portrait subjects relaxed and lost in their own thoughts rather than performing for his lens. As a result, the artist’s distanced and sympathetic stance captures these individuals as they are — ordinary people living their lives in the places where he has met them.

Soth first received wide public attention and critical acclaim in 2004 with Sleeping by the Mississippi, an ambitious five-year project — also published as a book — in which he traveled up and down the Mississippi River capturing places and people he came across, often with an eye tuned toward small-town curiosities, offbeat characters, and the chance of finding beauty in banal or overlooked settings. NIAGARA,

Soth’s next major American project, focuses on the eponymous waterfall which has long stood in the national vernacular as a symbol of grandeur and romance. What Soth finds at the falls and in the aging environs of tourist motels are complex stories that form a contemporary mythology of love, its promises and failures.

Other bodies of work featured in the exhibition include a rarely seen group of Soth’s early black-and-white photographs made in Minnesota; a project presenting a typology of abandoned and repurposed American movie theaters in Texas; a new series focused on women in Louisiana who embrace the Goth lifestyle; and a selection of portraits, interiors, still lifes, and landscapes from more recent series, including Fashion Magazine and The Last Days of W., made in locations across the United States.

Featured prominently in the exhibition is Soth’s most recent body of work, entitled Broken Manual, that investigates places to which people retreat to escape civilization — capturing individuals who have chosen to live “off the grid,” from monks and survivalists to hermits and runaways.

The series includes literary contributions from author Lester B. Morrison, who grew from the artist’s publishing imprint Little Brown Mushroom Books, and now is a key contributor to Soth’s popular new blog (littlebrownmushroom. wordpress.com).

Mining a very different side of the American experience than Soth’s previous work, these pictures and words probe into deeply psychological terrain, and collected as an installation, create compelling, often dark vignettes that hint at what lies at America’s fringes.

The exhibition additionally features a “library” area, which allows visitors further insight into Soth’s process, and includes a reading area for his publications, as well as a display of maquettes for book and ‘zine projects, and short video works. This area also presents ephemera the artist has gathered on the road, including love letters collected during the making of NIAGARA, notes, found objects, and other mementos.

From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America is the first exhibition catalogue to consider the full spectrum of Soth’s work.

Featuring more than 100 of the artist’s photographs made over the past 15 years, the book includes new critical essays by exhibition curator Siri Engberg, curator and art historian Britt Salvesen, and critic Barry Schwabsky, which offer context on the artist’s working process, the photo-historical tradition behind his practice, and reflections on his latest series of works.

Novelist Geoff Dyer’s “Riverrun” — a meditation on Soth’s series Sleeping by the Mississippi — and August Kleinzahler’s poem Sleeping It Off in Rapid City contribute to the thoughtful exploration of this body of work.

Also included in the publication is a 48-page artist’s book by Soth entitled The Loneliest Man in Missouri, a photographic essay with short, diaristic texts capturing the banality and ennui of middle America’s suburban fringes, with their corporate office parks, strip clubs, and chain restaurants. The full-color publication includes a complete exhibition history, bibliography, and interview with the artist by Walker assistant curator Bartholomew Ryan.

Distributed by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 155 Sixth Avenue, Second Floor, New York, NY 10013, 800.338.2665 (phone), 800.478.3128 (fax), artbook.com, and available at the Walker Art Center Shop, 612.375.7633 (phone), 612.375.7565 (fax). ISBN 978-0-935640-96-0 $60 ($54 Walker members).

Born in 1969 and raised in Minnesota, where he continues to live and work, Alec Soth attended Sarah Lawrence College. He has received fellowships from the McKnight Foundation (1999, 2004) and Jerome Foundation (2001), was the recipient of the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography, and was short-listed for the highly prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. His work is in many private and public collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Walker Art Center; it has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the 2004 Whitney and São Paulo Biennials. He is a member of Magnum Photos and is represented in Minneapolis by Weinstein Gallery, and in New York by Gagosian Gallery.

From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America is curated by Siri Engberg, Visual Arts Curator at the Walker Art Center. Since joining the staff in 1990, she has organized numerous exhibitions, including solo shows of Claes Oldenburg, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Motherwell, Joan Mitchell, and Donald Judd, and co-curated thematic exhibitions, including Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham / Meredith Monk / Bill T. Jones (1998) and The Home Show (2000). She is curator of Paper Trail (2007) and 1964 (2010) as well as the touring exhibitions Frank Stella at Tyler Graphics (1997), Edward Ruscha: Editions 1959-1999 (1999), Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 (2005, with Madeleine Grynsztejn), and Kiki Smith: A Gathering 1980-2005 (2005). A specialist in works on paper, Engberg has authored a variety of publications on contemporary art, including two Walker-published catalogues raisonnés — on the editions of Edward Ruscha and the prints of Robert Motherwell.

Alec Soth, Misty, 2005, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth, Sydney, Tallahassee, Florida, 2004, chromogenic print, Courtesy the artist.

Alec Soth (American, b. 1969), Fall #26, 2005, Chromogenic print, © Alec Soth, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

A Stupendous Waterfall and the Surrounding Post-Matrimonial Culture

Alec Soth (American, b. 1969), Nicholas, 2005, Chromogenic print, © Alec Soth, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Alec Soth (American, b. 1969), Terrace Court, 2005, Chromogenic print, © Alec Soth. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

 

Williams College Museum of Art
15 Lawrence Hall Drive
413-597-2429
Williamstown
Alec Soth: NIAGARA
October 10, 2009-January 10, 2010

Alec Soth: NIAGARA and A Strong Impression contrast historical and contemporary views of Niagara Falls as sublime landscape, tourist destination, and romantic cliché. A Strong Impression examines both the artistic and cultural context in which William Morris Hunt’s Niagara Falls (1878) was produced through paintings, drawings, photographs, films, rare books, and souvenirs. Alec Soth: NIAGARA presents 22 photographs by contemporary photographer Alec Soth. From 2004 to 2005, Soth photographed sobering contemporary views of life on both the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls. Oscar Wilde wrote, “The sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life.”

Soth captures this passion and disappointment in NIAGARA by focusing on the motifs of romance that have long been associated with the Falls — young couples, run-down motels, and pawn shop wedding rings. Using a large-format camera, Soth creates lushly detailed photographs that often belie the bittersweet subject matter of romance associated with the Falls — the “aftermath of passion,” as Soth describes it. However, Soth admits that he was not documenting Niagara Falls: “There is so much I left out,” he says. “Niagara has millions of happy vacationing families and I didn’t photograph a single one.”

“We are thrilled to be showing the work of Alec Soth for the first time in context with artists from the 19th century like William Morris Hunt and Frederic Edwin Church, who also depicted Niagara Falls. Hunt and Church painted the Falls in part because of its beauty and majesty, but also because the Falls symbolized the grandeur of American life. In contrast, Soth is interested in exploring the clichés and associations that have become part of the image of the Falls,” explains exhibition curator Kathryn Price.

Alec Soth (b. 1969) is a photographer born and based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the recipient of several major fellowships from the Bush, McKnight and Jerome Foundations and was awarded the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography. His work is represented in major public and private collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Soth's photographs have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the 2004 Whitney and São Paulo Biennials. His first monograph, Sleeping by the Mississippi, was published by Steidl in 2004 to critical acclaim.  Since then Soth has published NIAGARA (2006), Fashion Magazine (2007), Dog Days, Bogotá (2007) and The Last Days of W (2008). Soth is represented by Gagosian Gallery in New York, Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis, and is a member of Magnum Photos.

Alec Soth, Donald and Tamara, from the series,NIAGARA, 2004.

Alec Soth (American, b. 1969), Two Towels, 2005, Chromogenic print, © Alec Soth, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Alec Soth, Watertown, South Dakota, 2008, Archival pigmented print, 60.96 x 76.2 cm.

Alec Soth's Photographic Metaphors and The Last Days of W.

Alec Soth, Nome, Alaska, 2006, Archival pigmented print, 60.96 x 76.2 cm.

Alec Soth, West Point, New York, 2008, Archival pigmented print, 60.96 x 76.2 cm.

 

Haunch of Venison
Lessingstrasse 5
Zürich
+41 (0)43 422 8888
Alec Soth
The Last Days of W.

November 28, 2008-January 17, 2009

Acclaimed American photographer Alec Soth (b. 1969, Minneapolis) presents an incisive pictorial statement about the final days of President George Bush's administration for his first exhibition with Haunch of Venison Zürich. Entitled The Last Days of W., the exhibition features photographs that have been taken in North America over the last decade and which, in the artist's words, represent 'a panoramic look at a country exhausted by its catastrophic leadership.'

Opening shortly after the much-anticipated US election, 'The Last Days of W.' critiques the devastating impact of George Bush's presidency on the American people. While it includes some portraits, the exhibition will focus predominantly on landscapes, taking a broader look at the social crisis and urban decay that has been Bush's legacy. All the images have been made during Soth's extensive travels around the United States, and picture many different milieus: West Point, Texas, Detroit, California, Alaska, West Virginia and the artist's home in Minnesota.

Of the twenty odd photographs, a number are entirely new, some have been taken from past series such as Sleeping by the Mississippi or NIAGARA, and others derive from assignments that Soth has undertaken for various print media. The selection will reflect the scope of the stories that have captured Soth's imagination during President Bush's two terms in office: stories about mothers of Marines serving in Iraq, religion in the American workplace, the biggest landfill in America and the mortgage crisis in Stockton, California. Brought together for the first time, they constitute a "celebration / requiem for the Bush era." Rather than the myth of the American Dream, these images evoke the decline of the American Empire.

A newspaper, conceived and published by Soth, accompanies the photographs in the show and complements their socio-political commentary. Within the critique, however, a certain weariness persists, with the artist acknowledging the ultimate futility of resistance in the face of gross injustices and abuses of power. Soth concludes: 'In assembling this collection of pictures I've made over the last eight years, I guess I'm not really trying to accomplish much at all. But as President Bush once said, "One of the great things about books is, sometimes there are some fantastic pictures."

Alec Soth, Jolo, West Virginia, 2008, Archival pigmented print, 60.96 x 76.2 cm.

Alec Soth, Camp Purgatory, Ontario, California, 2008, Archival pigmented print, 60.96 x 76.2 cm.

Alec Soth, Bonnie (with a photograph of an Angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2002. Chromogenic print. 40-1/8 x 50-1/8 in. The Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Fund. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Documenting Waking and Sleeping Life along the Mississippi River

Alec Soth, Charles Lindbergh's boyhood bed Little Falls, Minnesota, 2002, Chromogenic print. 40-1/8 x 50-1/8 in. The Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Fund. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Alec Soth, Sunshine, Memphis, Tennessee, 2000, Chromogenic print. 40-1/8 x 50-1/8 in. The Alred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Fund. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Alec Soth, Charles, Vasa, Minnesota, 2002, Chromogenic print. 50-1/8 x 40-1/8 in. Gift of artist & Dan and Mary Solomon. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

 

Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Avenue South
612-870-3131
Minneapolis
Alex Soth: Sleeping by the Mississippi
May 31-August 10, 2008

Drawn from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s recent acquisition of the entire series, Alec Soth: Sleeping by the Mississippi comprises 26 prints, including several unpublished prints. This exhibition is organized by Minneapolis Institute of Arts and curated by Mikka Gee Conway, Assistant Director for Exhibitions and Programs at the MIA.

Soth, who was born in 1969, originally trained as a painter and from 1996 through 2003 was employed as a digital image specialist at the MIA. The forty-six photographs in his book Sleeping by the Mississippi were made between 1999 and 2002 during the course of the Soth’s wanderings along the Mississippi River, from its origins at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

The acquisition of this significant body of work is only the most recent example of the MIA’s continuing commitment to contemporary photography. The MIA has a long history of championing the art of photography, including the work of contemporary practitioners. Among the MIA’s earliest acquisitions of photographs were prints by Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon. Work by living artists has been added regularly to the collection since the department’s founding in 1973.

For several years, Soth made numerous journeys from his hometown in Minneapolis down the Mississippi River to the Delta recording the eccentricity, unexpected beauty, mystery, and sadness of the people and places he discovers along the way. The artist's sense of composition and the startling clarity of the images realized with an 8 x 10" view camera imbue the often-forlorn subject matter with an undeniable presence and the grandeur of Old Master paintings. Soth selects his subjects with an eye for the surreal and his images engage the viewer with dignified presentations of abandoned interiors, debris-laden landscapes, and portraits of fringe lifestyles that have the otherworldliness of a waking dream.

Soth records American life and landscape in the powerful photographic tradition beginning in the mid 19th century and extending to the work of such photographers as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Joel Sternfeld, who was his teacher. His immense curiosity about his chosen subject compels him to approach selected individuals and engage them in conversation about their lives-permission to create a portrait of the person where they live is often granted. In both portraiture and landscape images, Soth carefully controls the placement of all elements in the composition and may carefully rearrange what he finds in the environment to effectively tell a story.

Soth is acclaimed for having both a cinematic and folkloric feel: it evokes and hints at the story behind the image he is photographing.

His camera is a breadbox-sized R.H. Phillips and Sons 8x10 Compact camera from the late 1980s that makes diamond-edged, almost painting-like pictures. His process of photographing is complicated and reliant on fortuity and the artist’s control. He follows the complicated and nebulous process of using the large-format camera, a device that must be reconstructed anew on each use from a variety of parts, and that uses large and expensive negatives that slide into the back. Further, the camera lens is sensitive to variations in light and has a shallow field of focus that causes much fussiness in the artist. Soth says he is lucky if he manages to make one or two exposures on a given day of shooting. This is, of course, very different from the photographic norm in the load-and-shoot era of 35mm and digital cameras.

He has received fellowships from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations and was the recipient of the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography. His photographs are in major public and private collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Walker Art Center. His work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the 2004 Whitney Biennial. His first book, Sleeping by the Mississippi, was published in 2004. His second book, Niagara, was published in 2006. Soth has photographed for The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, and Newsweek.

In 2004, Soth became an associate photographer of Magnum Photos.

Alec Soth, Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2000. Chromogenic print. 40-1/8 x 50-1/8 in. The Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Fund. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Alec Soth, Reverand Cecil and Felicia, Saint Louis, Missouri, 2002. Chromogenic print. 40-1/8 x 50-1/8 in. Gift of Emily and Mark Goldstein. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.