Songbook by Alec Soth
Mack, 2015. Hardcover with green cloth boards. A collection of photographs by Soth. Light wear only.
Alec Soth (born 1969, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States) is an American photographer, based in Minneapolis, who makes "large-scale American projects" featuring the midwestern United States. His photography has a cinematic feel with elements of folklore that hint at a story behind the image. New York Times art critic Hilarie M. Sheets wrote that he has made a "photographic career out of finding chemistry with strangers" and photographs "loners and dreamers". His work tends to focus on the "off-beat, hauntingly banal images of modern America" according to The Guardian art critic Hannah Booth. His work has been compared to that of Walker Evans and Stephen Shore. He is a member of Magnum Photos.
Soth has had various books of his work published by major publishers as well as self-published through his own Little Brown Mushroom. His major publications are Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual and Songbook. 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, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Walker Art Center. His work has been exhibited widely including as part of the 2004 Whitney Biennial and a major solo exhibition at Media Space in London in 2015.
Life and work
Soth liked the work of Diane Arbus. He traveled around the Mississippi River and made a self-printed book entitled Sleeping by the Mississippi which included both landscapes and portraits. Curators for the 2004 Whitney Biennial put him in their show, and one of his photographs entitled "Charles", of a man in a flight suit on his roof holding two model airplanes, was used in their poster.
When he photographs people, Soth feels nervous at times. He said: "My own awkwardness comforts people, I think. It’s part of the exchange." When he was on the road, he'd have notes describing types of pictures he wanted taped to the steering wheel of his car. One list was: "beards, birdwatchers, mushroom hunters, men’s retreats, after the rain, figures from behind, suitcases, tall people (especially skinny), targets, tents, treehouses and tree lines. With people, he'll ask their permission to photograph them, and often wait for them to get comfortable; he sometimes uses an 8x10 camera. He tries to find a "narrative arc and true storytelling" and pictures in which each picture will lead to the next one.
His first book, Sleeping by the Mississippi, was published in 2004. His second book, Niagara, was published in 2006. One of his photos is of a woman in a bridal gown sitting outside what appears to be a motel; he describes having made an arrangement with a particular wedding chapel in Niagara Falls which let him take pictures of couples getting married, by photographing them after their weddings.
Soth, along with writer Lester B. Morrison, created Broken Manual over four years (2006–2010) an underground instruction manual for those looking to escape their lives. Soth investigates the places in which people retreat to escape civilization, he photographs monks, survivalists, hermits and runaways.
Soth concurrently produced the photo book From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America an overview of Soth’s photography from the early 1990s to the present.
Soth founded the publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom (LBM), in 2010. Through it, he publishes his own, and that of other like-minded people, "narrative photography books that function in a similar way to children's books," in book, magazine and newspaper formats. He has collaborated on numerous books with Brad Zellar, a Minnesota writer from the Twin Cities.
In 2010, Soth flew to the United Kingdom but despite not having applied for a work visa was allowed into the country on the understanding that if he was "caught taking photographs" he could be put in prison for two years. So he handed the camera to his young daughter who took pictures in Brighton.
A 2016 photo exhibition, titled "Hypnagogia", featured 30 images from Soth's 20-year exploration of the state between wakefulness and sleep. “Described as a neurological phenomenon, one recurrently associated with creativity, a hypnagogic state is the dreamlike experience while awake that conjures vivid, sometimes realistic imagery,” Soth explained in the artist statement for the project.
Publications by Soth
- Sleeping by the Mississippi. Photographs by Alec Soth, essays by Patricia Hampl and Anne Wilkes Tucker. Göttingen: Steidl, 2004.
- Niagara. Göttingen: Steidl, 2006. ISBN 978-3865212337. Photographs by Alec Soth, essays by Richard Ford and Philip Brookman.
- Fashion Magazine. Paris: Magnum, 2007. ISBN 978-2-9524102-1-2.
- Dog Days Bogota. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007. ISBN 978-3-865214-51-5.
- Last Days of W. St. Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2008.
- Sheep. TBW Subscription Series #2. Oakland, CA: TBW, 2009. Edition of 800 copies. The other volumes are by Todd Hido, Abner Nolan and Marianne Mueller.
- Broken Manual. Göttingen: Steidl, 2010. ISBN 978-3-869301-99-0. With Lester B. Morrison.
- From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2010. ISBN 978-0-935640-96-0. Catalogue of a retrospective exhibition curated by Siri Engberg. Foreword by Olga Viso; texts by Geoff Dyer, "Riverrun"; Britt Salvesen, "American History"; Barry Schwabsky, "A Wandering Art"; a poem by August Kleinzahler, "Sleeping it off in Rapid City"; and Soth in conversation with Bartholomew Ryan, "Dismantling My Career". Includes separate book The Loneliest Man in Missouri by Soth, inserted into back cover.
- Ash Wednesday, New Orleans. Kamakura, Japan: Super Labo, 2010.
- One Mississippi. Nazraeli Press, 2010.
- Lonely Boy Mag. No. A-1: Alec Soth’s Midwestern Exotica. St. Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2011. Edition of 1000 copies. Photographs and text by Soth.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Edizioni Punctum, 2011. Edition of 500 copies.
- Italian-language edition. Text in Italian. 175 copies of the 500 total edition.
- Looking for Love. Berlin: Kominek Bücher, 2012.
- Ohio. LBM Dispatch #1. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2012. ASIN B008ESQB4Y. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
- Upstate. LBM Dispatch #2. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2012. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
- Michigan. LBM Dispatch #3. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2012. ASIN B00BT1KY14. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
- Three Valleys. LBM Dispatch #4. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2013. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
- Colorado. LBM Dispatch #5. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2013. Text by Brad Zellar Edition of 2000 copies.
- Texas. LBM Dispatch #6. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2013. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
- Georgia. LBM Dispatch #7. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2014. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
- Ping Pong Conversations: Alec Soth with Francesco Zanot. Rome: Contrasto, 2013. ISBN 978-8869654091. Transcripts compiled from conversations between Soth and Zanot, with new and previously published photographs by Soth. Zanot contributes an introduction, "Alec Soth: the Recycling of Photography".
- Bogota Funsaver. One Picture Book 88. Portland, OR: Nazraeli Press, 2014. ISBN 9781590054178. Edition of 500 copies.
- Songbook. Göttingen: Steidl, 2015. ISBN 978-1910164020.
- Gathered Leaves. London: Mack, 2015. ISBN 9781910164365. 29 large format postcards and mini facsimile versions of Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual, and Songbook. With an introduction by Kate Bush and an essay by Aaron Schuman.