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Alec Soth’s America

‘For me, art books are the ultimate extension of children’s literature. They are the creative weaving of text, design and image between the tactile covers of a book. No parent would tell you that the children’s book is in danger of extinction. Toddler’s want to gnaw on board books, not iPads. The same is true for artist’s books.’

-Alec Soth

Echoing the sentiments of our friend Dave Eggers, Alec Soth’s belief in the importance (and pleasure) of art books is born out in the catalogue for his current exhibition at Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis. Called From Here to There: Alec Soth’s Amercia, the solo show is Soth’s first in a major US museum, and its catalogue is beautiful, thoughtful, and fun. It features the usual run of essays, interviews, and color prints, but its scrapbook layout, yellow-wrapped boards, and To-Do list of a cover design make for a more off-kilter reading and looking experience. Paging through the book is more akin to a treasure hunt through the creative maze inside Soth’s head than the clean, minimal, and sparse experience typically found in photo monographs. The wealth of information to be found, whether it is visual, written, or tactile, is a joy. And as you reach the last page, you receive one final gift – a 48-page artist’s book called The Lonliest Man, proof that Soth really knows how to tickle an art book lover’s fancy. (For more of the same, please see his terrific newsprint The Last Days of W..)

Soth is one of the more interesting voices in contemporary photography. Represented by both Magnum and Gagosian, he straddles the murky river separating fine art and documentary photography; his images, formally arresting, exhibit a documentarian’s sensitivity to human drama and concern. Unlike a great deal of fine art photography these days, Soth’s photos are populated by people – these are not “neutron bomb” landscapes, as it was recently put it to me, cities and highways and houses full of inanimate objects but bereft of life. Even those photos absent a human presence are marked by their trace – his project NIAGARA, which documents the dark, shabby reality of life at Niagara Falls, insists on the personal, everyday experience of one of the US’s most enduring markers of national identity.

Photography by Alec Soth, from his projects The Last Days of W. (top) and Broken Manual (bottom)

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  1. here & now › Views from the Road on Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 04:52

    [...] photographers (this time, Susan Meiselas, Jim Goldberg, Christopher Anderson, and our favorites, Alec Soth and Mikhael Subotzky) on the first of a series of  road trips around America. Although the project [...]