Photography fans, take note: esteemed Magnum Photographer Alec Soth will be giving a lecture this Wednesday, October 23 in the Belo Center for New Media. You’ll see a selection of Soth’s photographic work alongside his commentary about community life in America.
Here’s an excerpt from a write-up of his current project, the rest of which you can find here:
At the simplest level, the LBM Dispatch project falls into the long American tradition of expedition and road trip photography. Walking in the footsteps of everyone from Timothy O’Sullivan to Robert Frank, Soth and Zellar have headed out on rambling open ended trips and documented what they’ve found. But unlike their predecessors, Soth and Zellar have brought prose much more fully into the artistic end product; the texts here are not addendums or afterthoughts, but integrated parts of the collaborative storytelling experience. While the James Agee/Walker Evans team is certainly once precedent, I think there is stronger kinship here with the work of Wright Morris, where text and pictures were used with nearly equal brilliance to capture the nuances of specific American places and times.
In this particular issue, Soth and Zellar have driven the roads of Colorado, taking in healthy gulps of mountain vistas and frontier spirit. While their trips clearly have a dose of serendipity, these are not really random moments; they’ve done their homework, read their history, and are looking for certain kinds of encounters that will touch on larger themes. This method of building up a narrative is well suited to Soth’s approach to photography; he has never been one to be pigeon holed into just portraits, landscapes, still lifes, or any other type or subject matter, so this kind of vignette-driven storytelling fits well with his natural working style. While rugged snowy mountains and huge storm clouds are an inescapable part of any portrait of Colorado, Soth and Zellar have dug deeper than the stunning landscape, probing the edges of local communities, common folklore, and the undercurrent of violence seemingly inherent to life in this wide open country.
Many of Soth’s photographs in this book are portraits of people and objects, seen with an open, unassuming honesty that allows a sliver of the surreal to slip in nearly undetected: a bearded man stands in front of an enormous pile of antlers, while another sports a plastic mask of Doc Holliday, and a woman in formal riding gear waits for her horse perched on a set of stairs, while another beams in her colonial frontier dress amid a row of parked cars. Often, the still life objects and places are secondary evidence, physical remains with some additional resonance: a tombstone of a famous cannibal, the path leading to the Columbine High School memorial, a bullet hole in the wall at Focus on the Family, a rusted out, pock-marked car in the dust near the home of the Dragon Man, a plastic bear torso at a local archery club. Each image tells its own self contained mini-story, and contributes to the weaving of a larger non-linear tapestry of collective impressions.
For more on Soth, see his website here.
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