Alec Soth's (b. Minnesota, 1969) large-scale colour photographs combine satire, pathos, nostalgia and humour in their exploration of Americana. The subjects of his works are frequently marginal figures or landscapes, invested with their own quiet beauty or interest, and often encountered by chance on long road trips undertaken by the artist. As an itinerant photographer, Soth's work registers the particular iconography of the familiar and the alien, juxtaposing a clear-eyed documentary style with glints of the uncanny.
Travelling from his native Midwest, to the Niagara beyond the Falls, and the streets of Bogota in Colombia, Soth has emerged as one of the most consistently arresting American artists at work today. Many of his subjects - among which are empty petrol stations, uninhabited landscapes and neglected motels - have been chosen for their understated or typically quotidian appeal, but upon closer inspection are redolent of a more profound sense of social crisis or urban decay.
The slow process of Soth's practice - involving an old-fashioned 8x10 inch camera on a tripod - helps imbue the works with their characteristic stillness. The artist's reluctance to pose his subjects means the distance between the photographer and the photographed is always maintained. It is this distance - what he calls 'space between us' - that interests Soth, in that it suggests the limitations of a viewer's identification with his subject. As such, his photographs possess the simple honesty of a fact or scene presented, a moment in time revealed.
In the past ten years, Soth's solo projects and the commissioned work he undertakes have seen him travel extensively around the United States, picturing many different people and milieus: mothers of Marines serving in Iraq, religion in the American workplace, the biggest landfill in America, and the mortgage crisis in Stockton, California. Rather than the myth of the American Dream, many of these images instead evoke the decline of the American Empire.
Drawn from the eight years of George Bush's presidency (2000-08), Sothís most recent body of work suggests a longer-term look at the same phenomenon. 'The Last Days of W' represents, according to the artist, 'a panoramic look at a country exhausted by its catastrophic leadership'. This collection of photographs - some old, some new - presents a singular narrative, addressing among other things the disjunction between the public face and private lives of America, and the beauty of things forgotten. Soth says: '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 is based in Minneapolis, U.S.A. His work has featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the 2004 Whitney and Sao Paulo Biennials, and a recent career survey which travelled from the Jeu de Paume in Paris to the Fotomuseum in Winterthur (2008). Soth is represented in major public and private collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Sleeping by the Mississippi, his first series, was published to critical acclaim in 2004. Subsequent monographs include NIAGARA (2006), Fashion Magazine (2007) and Dog Days, Bogota (2007). He is the recipient of several major fellowships from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations and in 2003 was awarded the Santa Fe Prize for Photography. In 2008 he became a member of Magnum Photos.
The Last Days of W - Alec Soth. 2008
"During these last days of the administration, what is the point of protest, satire or any other sort of rabble-rousing? In assembling this collection of pictures Iíve made over the last eight years, Iím 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
The Last Days of W - Alec Soth. 2008
48 page, self-published artist book printed on newsprint.
Gagosian Gallery, New York, Los Angeles, London
Weinstein Gallery, Minneapolis
Haunch of Venison, London, Zurich, Berlin, New York
Alec Soth Archive
Alec Soth on wikipedia.