Alec Soth: ‘Quintessentially American’

Alec Soth, "Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans", 2002, c-print, 16 x 20", loaned by the artist.

On Thursday, February 25, acclaimed documentary photographer Alec Soth will present a gallery talk in Plains Art Museum’s Landfield Atrium. Several of Soth’s prints are included in the Individual to Icon: Portraits of the Famous and Almost Famous from Folk Art to Facebook exhibition on display at the Museum through August 15. His appearance is being sponsored in part by the Minnesota State University-Moorhead Department of Art and Design.

Alec Soth, "Lenny, Minneapolis, Minnesota," 2002, c-print, loaned by the artist.

Soth is a native of Chanhassen, Minn., who received a burst of attention following his inclusion in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, an exhibition of young and lesser-known artists at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. Also in 2004, he released the series Sleeping by the Mississippi, a project that began with travels up and down the Mississippi River over the course of a few years and ended with a set of portraits that are “elastic, unbound by a rigid conceptual framework, and … quintessentially American in spirit”:

Soth says he is natually attracted to people and places that embody a quiet sensibility. This is reflected in his choice of an 8×10 view camera – each exposure is made on an 8×10 inch negative – to capture his subjects and settings. The slow process involved with using this camera lends itself to the stillness and poetic quietude of his pictures, enhancing the reflective quality of his subjects. This particular camera work requires complicit subjects, making evident the sense of trust that Soth establishes with his subjects. – (From Apsara DiQuinzio’s essay for the 2004 Whitney Biennial Exhibition catalogue. View the rest here.)

Soth’s work, like all good photography, challenges the viewer to consider our social environment as a place that isn’t as clean around the edges as we imagine. In fact, the world through the lens of Alec Soth becomes a place where all of us, at one time or another, are one of these people – believable, but with the twinge of fantasy we all glimpse from time to time.

Click around below to learn more about the photography of Alec Soth. Here’s a link to his gallery talk event on Facebook.