What makes Alec Soth such a highly regarded if not revered photographer? He seems to have mastered the art of the Photobook. When I saw him in Bristol he struck me as a little slick for some reason; my projection perhaps and possibly a reaction to his obvious business acumen which we Brits tend to feel unsure about.
Yamuna (the friend I attend with) and I agree that the strength of this kind of photography in which captions play a minimal role, is that they allow and encourage the imagination to wander.
In Broken Manual, the captions are merely numerical metadata, some of which contains the year the image was made. Mention is made in literature displayed in a table case of a man involved in bombing an abortion clinic and a gay night club who lived for 5 years in the Appalachian Mountains while being hunted by the police. Although the photograph above of Charles with model aeroplanes, one of the most famous Soth has produced, is not from the Broken Manual series, it does reflect a tendency by Soth to accept the misfit and give him/her attention and hence understanding.
Yamuna, entrance to the exhibition and an image from Songbook
In Songbook, the brief captions return, yet what is this part of the exhibition about? Human relationship seems an important aspect of Soth’s work; relationship between the real world and the individual. The key image of this series is a man dancing by himself with his arms open as if cradling another; there is a solitary chair in the background and the emphasis seems to be on loneliness. Images are in black and white.
There are times when looking at Soth’s work that one might wonder whether he is not being a little cynical in his depiction of people as with the photograph of Charles the toy aeroplane maker or the man dancing alone yet the artist is not asking us to laugh rather we are left to our own response which might just as well be one of compassion towards some of the apparently hapless individuals Soth portrays in settings that resonate with the subject. These people are depicted as fish in rather than out of water.
One felt welcome on entering the exhibition and seeing the above sign! Both has a realistic idea of the photograph not to be hoarded as a unique image rather one that needs to be circulated.