Alec Soth: The Loneliest Man in Minnesota?

IN THE BACK CORNER OF THE SECOND ROOM of Alec Soth‘s new show at the Walker Art Center, From Here to There, Alec Soth’s America, is a photograph that is hard not to see. It is a fat man and his wife, sitting on a couch together. They are in a kind of embrace. And they are naked in almost every way.

I know how hard this photo is to avoid — perhaps how powerful it is — because I was standing in front of it at the media preview for the exhibition, and I could see the other journalists looking over my shoulder, wanting to see it, but not wanting to be seen seeing it. Their eyes were pulled to it like magnets, as our eyes are always pulled to nakedness. But I don’t think their gazes were drawn only by the sight of the man’s scrotum, or the couple’s cascading flesh, or the small blemishes they have — which we all have, but usually hide away.

The couple is not attractive. They may be in love. They may be bored. They are together, yet somehow they are also are alone. The picture is at once tender and cold, vulnerable and bold. And in this image, I think, is much of the allure at the heart of all of Alec Soth‘s work.

Read the rest here.


  1. My documentary photos of India are entirely formal with no attempt to make Indian society look good or bad. I have only one of Thailand, a boy bowing to a cow, the rest are travel stock. All countries listed below “Documentary” are travel stock – so there are no documentary photos of Greece speaking of taking harder looks. The point about Frank was an obvious one in that he was making a specific comment about America as a whole – I am not doing so in my very few foreign doc photos. I in fact acknowledge that it is not possible to do so without projecting your own cultural chauvinism right up front. So, your first point is entirely hollow. I also acknowledge that Frank’s book was so influential that it’s effect probably cannot be overstated so you missed that which is also right up top.
    Apparently only what you write is worth reading and it is entirely unnecessary to compare me to the unibomber because you feel put out. on that basis everyone who feels a movement is corrupt is a nuthatch. What is going on in the Minnesota conceptual fine arts scene is entirely real and not all art has equal value and the value of an opinion of a photographer trumps mom and pop who put images on the fridge with a magnet so I am indeed unimpressed with any power they feel emanates from empty work. The whole point is if photos are shown through institutions of repute, the public takes it for granted that something is there when it may not be. Since I did not pillory all of Soth’s work so there is no need to generalize as if I did. My comment about ‘Broken Manual’ and Huie’s University Ave. series stands and doesn’t make me anti-social or cynical it’s just my opinion and an informed one. It is the enablers of such dismal work who are the cynics and not those who call them out. I have no trouble admitting a writer’s opinion’s about writing trumps mine, I see no reason why you feel the need to defend work outside your area of expertise. Curator’s and gallery owners in MN don’t know any more about photography than a cat and the general public less so. Defend them based on positive feelings all you like. “Minnesota nice” is no substitute for good and above all honest work. My essay has nothing to do with the decline of documentary photography which is obvious. Here is a link about reading comprehension since you are obviously deficient in this area, preferring instead to see things on my site and read things into my writing that don’t exist.

  2. Much as I don’t want to get into a big-fish, small-pond Midwestern pissing contest, I see that this does need some response. Where to start? First of all, I can’t claim to have read your entire 18,000-word Unabomber screed on the decline of documentary photography, mainly because it just doesn’t seem worth the time. You start it off claiming to know “America” 1000 times better than Robert Frank, whose “The Americans” was one of the most influential photography books of all time. At the same time, you sell your own documentary photos of places like India, Thailand, Greece, and Brazil, which you can’t know all that well. This makes your claim to some kind of authority seem hollow and hypocritical. Secondly, your use of the word, “dismal,” for Soth’s work is what gives your complaints the ring of sour grapes. It’s a shallow attack which shows how little you yourself are bringing to the photos. While I don’t think the responsibility for responding to art lies solely with the viewer, photography is about the empty spaces around the photos and the way our minds fills in those spaces. If your reaction to Soth’s photos (and everyone else in Minneapolis) is simply that they are dismal, this seems like a catastrophic failure of imagination on your part. I’m sure you believe you have objective truth on your side, but so did Ted Kaczynski. It doesn’t follow from the fact that Soth’s photos remain powerful for many people that all those people are wrong—this is art, not science. What follows is that you are not seeing or feeling what they are. “Dismal” is an empty, easy word. Photography is as much a mirror onto our own world as a window into others. Perhaps you need to take a harder look.

  3. With all due respect, I knew that is exactly what you would say. Your expertise on photography allows for no rebuttal since in your world, there are no bad photographs, only bad people who say so and everyone is an expert. If you look at the last 10 years of the photography grant recipients for the McKnight, not only is the work almost entirely bad but it is spectacularly and obvious so. The critical voice: when is it allowed? When it comes to fine art photography in Minnesota, the answer is, never. I love the politically correct report card with no ‘f’. There are no sorry grapes in my history since I won the first and 5th Minnesota grants I ever applied for and then left the scene in utter disillusionment. Don’t misunderstand me, I think Mr. Soth is probably among the best of that McKnight group – just don’t like the 2 projects in question. The truth of the matter is that no one cares as long as the ball keeps rolling and there are no guardians or gate keepers when it come to Minnesota Fine Arts Photography. As your terse reply suggests, a change is probably a generation away.

  4. The lack of a critical voice allowed in the Minnesota arts scene together with 30 plus years of the socialization of the fine arts has left the fine arts scene thriving in unprecedented numbers yet in terms of talent a politically correct and broken wreck on the floor. In this case, less would equal more as a critical culling and cutting away of the non-talented would elevate us all.

    I change one of your blurbs to say the photos at Soth’s exhibition are about the fear of an artist’s own middle classness as a creative entity and the fear of being unable to escape it.

    Two collections of photos you mention, far from being ‘mesmerizing’ or ‘interesting’ are in fact completely dismal, these being ’33 Theaters and a Funeral Home” and ‘Broken Manual’. The fact that many would dismiss my feelings on this as just my opinion or relegate it to mud slinging speak to the socialization of fine art photography and the arrogance attached to the idea of ‘an informed opinion’ and one should note that one never is told that their opinion is just their opinion when one lauds a work; all opinions have equal merit.

    Together with Wing Young Huie’s equally dismal University Avenue Project photos mentioned at the site and the art at the top of the page depicting a piece by Erika Olson Gross you have work that would look better in a private exhibition in a nursing home than something at the Institute of Arts or a photographer who gets thousands of dollars of grant money because Minnesota has not a clue when it comes to art, especially photography. Here’s a clue – photography is not literature nor a political process, it’s photography and has its own strengths and weaknesses and is to be subverted and circumvented only if at some level you dislike it, don’t understand it, are embarrassed by your own misconception of it’s inherent lack of depth or can’t compete on photography’s own level.

    On the same site, the Minneapolis Photo Center actually proclaims on a website poster “Alternative: Where Process Is Paramount”, blithely unaware of ironically trumpeting the twin evils that have decimated fine art photography, alternative and contrariness for their own sake and process trumping talent and content. And these are all examples I got just off the splash page!

    Should you wish it, you can read more in this essay I wrote about the decimation of fine art photography in America.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s