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Interview: Alec Soth


Alec Soth

In this weeks long-overdue interview section, my compadre Daniel Shea interviews Alec Soth. Big ups to Daniel for this excellent and informed interview, check out his site if his name is new to you. This site is always open to contributors, so if you’d like to author an interview, by all means drop me a line through the contact form above!

Daniel Shea: A couple weeks ago I called Alec at his studio in Minnesota. I put my phone on speaker and recorded the conversation with an analog tape player. Here is the result.

Daniel Shea: For me, part of being an artist and a photographer is existing in a state of constant reconciliation. For example, reconciling a work’s inevitable reading in a gallery or book form and the work’s initial intentions. There’s reconciling the business and the love of the practice. There’s reconciling an interest in taking photography to a new place and loving the inherent qualities of a rather traditional medium. Do you agree, are you in a state of constant reconciliation?

Alec Soth: Yes, although, one thing I’ll allow myself is great freedom in terms of the way the work is read or what have you. I just found that at a certain point I wasn’t a photographer on a mission. I’m interested in something more like poetry in that the work can be interpreted in different ways. I’m cool with people taking whatever they want to take from it. There would be more reconciliation necessary if I was trying to alter the political infrastructure of Colombia. There is some of it, just not as much, certainly the commerce side of it, it exists (laughter).

DS: So do you find the reconciliation process taking place in terms of commerce?

AS: Yeah, I mean there was a time in my life where I essentially made the work for myself and had no audience, and thus no commerce. And there was great freedom in that, but of course it was miserable (laughter). I mean you want people to see the work…

DS: Well, you’re talking to the right audience about that for this website…

AS: But then it flips and then you have an audience and people buy work and that’s great. But there’s all this crap that comes along with it. And you just don’t have that same kind of purity of intention, it’s a little bit lost, it’s different. Which is not to say I make work for the market place.

DS: Well, I guess when reading interviews with other established artists, making work and existing in the market, there’s less reconciliation, rather just acceptance of it being what it is, funding for the next personal project, a family…

AS: It’s always evolving on a project-by-project basis. It’s funny because I’m quite secretive about the work I’m in the middle of usually, although it’s getting harder and harder to do that. There’s just constantly a demand to talk about what I’m working on. Even in an interview like this, just someone asking you your opinion, I think it’s a good thing, but it also just makes you self-conscious.

For the entire interview & pictures:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jared Ragland permalink*
    09/14/2009 04:11

    Thanks for posting this, Diana. In light of our current discussion on the pieces written by Danny Lyon and Paul Graham, I find it interesting that Soth believes photography was more compelling 50 yrs ago and that there is now an overabundance of photography. His view of his work as distinctly poetic, not social commentary, is interesting, too. I always found the most appealing thing about Soth’s work is how it struck me as a beautiful balance between the poetic and the culturally conscious. He notes the differences between Bresson and Capa, his forerunners and founders of Magnum – Bresson being the “art” photographer, Capa the reportage – and yet I love the idea of Capa making beautiful political/war pictures, and Bresson telling the story of the world through his decisive moments. The big fat gray area between art and reportage is a wonderful place to be…

  2. rios permalink
    09/14/2009 21:17

    I met Alec Soth a few months ago at a lecture he gave at the University of Pennsylvania. I think he’s reached that point in his career where he’s unsure that he’s actually doing anything of value. He was incredibly bitter about flickr, the massive amount of digital images in the world, and even the value of Magnum as an organization. He even confessed to not having wanted to do the lectures. Regardless, he does great work and if you havent seen his work over at the NPG, go check it out before they take it down.

    Oh, and incase it ever comes up in a conversation: his last name rhymes with ‘both’. (this was the first slide of his lecture, haha).

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