Alec Soth’s first book, Sleeping in the Mississippi, was so sweeping in its epic statements, it seemed that Soth had nothing left to photograph. What could he do next? The answer is Niagara, a portrayal of the town that has traditionally been the romance capital of North America. In Niagara, Soth sets out to capture the grand passion of life, to do for love and marriage what Sleeping in the Mississippi does for the American Midwest.
“Niagara is part of American mythology. It’s a place of romance, where people go to get married,” says Soth. “But when I got there my view of the place totally changed. The American side is economically devastated. It’s bleak.” As Mack Books republishes Alec Soth’s classic book, BJP revisits our review first published in 2006
Sleeping by the Mississippi has been ranked with the great representations of the United States, including Walker Evans’ pictures of the depression, Robert Frank’s harsh vision of the 1950s and, more recently, the colour work of Joel Sternfeld. As Alec Soth’s seminal work goes on show in London and is given a handsome reprint by MACK, we revisit an interview with him from back in 2004 – when the series first came out.
“Everyone can take great pictures,” Alec Soth tells BJP at the opening of his first UK exhibition, Gathered Leaves, at London’s Science Museum. “What’s hard is taking a collection of great pictures and making them work together. It’s like language: everyone can speak but putting the words together is the real challenge.” Gathered Leaves meets that challenge head on. This is his new exhibition in London’s Science Museum, displaying a comprehensive set of pictures from a photographer widely considered the greatest contemporary explorer of the American psyche. Derived from his four books Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual and Songbook, the work combines portraiture, landscapes and interiors, presented with a smattering of inspirational material. Though the subject matter ranges from portentous wide shots of waterfalls to bearded men clutching model planes to naked Neo-Nazi hermits it’s easy to deduce Soth’s common thread: we’re witnessing the less-travelled America. Soth’s work has taken him across the whole of the US, though it’s what are derisively called ‘the flyover states’ that firmly hold his attention. This is …
On my way out from interviewing Alec Soth, navigating the stairs from his publisher’s office, out into the rainy late-November evening outside, it seems appropriate – significant even – that it happened on London’s Denmark Street. This tiny diagonal lane on the flanks of Covent Garden has been a draw for musicians since Dickensian times, when the music halls and theatres nearby bought sheet music in bundles from the terraced shops on its route. Later, in the 1950s, it was host to a flourishing music publishing industry, becoming known as the British ‘Tin Pan Alley’, and later still The Rolling Stones and David Bowie sang into microphones in recording studios on their upper floors. These days, most of what’s left of that illustrious, sing-song past is a clutch of guitar shops and specialist music retailers – all under threat of redevelopment – the brassy-yellow light from their windows reflecting in the sheen of wet, gum-dotted pavement. Soth is here in London to lay the ground for a retrospective of his photography opening at Media Space …
“In the tradition of Magnum’s commitment to emerging photographers, this exclusive masterclass will give limited participants a rare opportunity to refine their photographic practice and sense of authorship under the guidance of Magnum’s progressive photographers,” says Magnum Photos. “The masterclass will incorporate inspirational presentations from all three Magnum photographers, portfolio critiques and an overnight shooting assignment. Critiques will be conducted amongst masterclass groups, encouraging confidence building skills and the ability to communicate projects, as well as engaging peer-to-peer feedback. Participants will work with assigned Magnum photographer and their Masterclass group to developing a realistic overnight brief; work from which will be reviewed the following day. The masterclass, which will be held on 30 June and 01 July, costs £450/$750 with applicants being chosen on the strength of their portfolios and “the perceived benefit to the photographer’s career. Apply on the Magnum website. Stay up to date with stories such as this, delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Vanessa Winship’s biggest UK show to date, the first UK retrospective of Dorothea Lange, and a huge group exhibition including work by photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, Dayanita Singh, Alec Soth, Chris Steele-Perkins, Daido Moriyama, Diane Arbus, Pieter Hugo, Bruce Davidson, and Boris Mikhailov – they’re all coming up this year at London’s Barbican Centre, in a season titled The Art of Change.
“Being a photographer of dogs…I always felt there needed to be a more intelligent representation of the animal than the cute and fluffy images you tend to see online,” says Martin Usborne – photographer, publisher, and now picture editor of a book called Really Good Dog Photography. A collaboration between Hoxton Mini Press, which Usborne co-founded with Ann Waldvogel, and Penguin Books, Really Good Dog Photography contains work by some well-known, and sometimes surprising photographers, such as Alec Soth, Peter Hujar, Elliot Erwitt, and Ruth van Beek. It took “lots of looking” to put it together, says Usborne, and he enlisted Marta Roca, creative director of Four & Sons magazine, to help. BJP contributor Lucy Davies added interviews with many of the photographers plus a thoughtful introductory essay.
“The Hobbyist is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between photography and hobby culture, focussing both on the photography of hobbies and photography as a hobby,” write curators Pierre Hourquet, Anna Planas and Thomas Seelig of the forthcoming show at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, The Hobbyist – Hobbies, Photography and the Hobby of Photography, which opens on 08 September. It’s a fair but also deceptively simple summary of this intriguing show, which is backed up by a busy events programme and a magazine (in place of a catalogue). “A phenomenon as diverse and participatory as the hobby can hardly be tackled through a classical exhibition alone,” write the curators, and the magazine reflects some of this diversity, including images by photographers such as Alberto Garcia-Alix, Bruce Davidson, Alec Soth, Mike Mandel, Ricardo Cases, and Kirill Golovchenko, vintage adverts for TVs, cameras and videotape recorders, an extract from Theodore W Adorno’s test The Culture Industry, a Q&A with Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane on their Folk Archive, and essays by contemporary cultural theorists such as Olivia Baeriswyl, Therese Steffen, and Doris Gassert.
Prints from 96 New York-based photographers go on sale until 20 April to raise money for Elmhurst Hospital Centre, Queens
It’s your last chance to buy a stunning photograph, and support medics in virus-stricken Bergamo