Alec Soth is an American photographer known for his vivid large-format photographs showing portraits of strangers and abandoned landscapes in the American Midwest. A Member of Magnum Photos and recipient of numerous fellowships and awards including the Guggenheim Fellowship (2013), Soth's images echo the solitude and desolation in modern America.Read More
Soth was born in Minneapolis, where he lives and works. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College in New York until 1992. As a child, he was known to be very shy—even today, as he photographs others, Soth tends to get nervous. 'I think ... it's part of the exchange,' the artist states.
Alec Soth's photographs are produced over long periods of travel, mostly around the Midwest and the Southern United States. They are often site-specific, showing strangers and desolate landscapes. His work tends to focus on the 'off-beat, hauntingly banal images of modern America' according to The Guardian art critic Hannah Booth.
Drawn to Diane Arbus' photographs, Soth traveled to the Mississippi River to make Sleeping by the Mississippi, a self-printed book featuring landscapes and portraits that led to his participation in the Whitney Biennial in 2004. The book was made over five years and first published by Steidl in 2004. One of the images, Charles, which shows a bearded man holding two planes, was used for the biennial's poster.
Soth has been photographing different parts of America following the publication of Sleeping by the Mississippi. His second book, NIAGARA, was published in 2006 and showed photographs of married couples after their wedding, centered around a particular chapel in Niagara Falls.
For Broken Manual, Soth looked into places people go to retreat from civilisation. Over four years, the artist photographed monks, hermits, and runaways to create an underground guide for those looking to get away from life, produced under the pseudonym Lester B. Morrison.
Subsequent publications like Last Days of W document a country exhausted by the presidency of George W. Bush. These images are included in From Here to There: Alec Soth's America, a compilation of Soth's work since the 1990s.
In 2008, Soth founded Little Brown Mushroom, a publishing house centered around visual storytelling, though which he prints his own and similar works as books, newspapers, and magazines.
Between 2012 and 2014, the artist traveled across America to work on his newspaper The LBM Dispatch and on assignments for publications like the New York Times Magazine. Resulting images were compiled in Songbook (2015), a reportage on American culture and the quest for human connection.
Soth received the McKnight Foundation Photography Fellowship in 1999, 2004, and 2013, the Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant in 2001, the Santa Fe Prize for Photography in 2003, and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography in 2013.
The photographer was also a finalist for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2006 and has been a member of the Magnum Photo Agency since 2008.
Soth's work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, including the 2004 Whitney Biennial and the São Paolo Biennial. A retrospective of Soth's work took place at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland in 2008.
Select solo exhibitions include I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, FOAM, Amsterdam (2020) and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco (2019); The Space Between Us, Shanghai Center of Photography (2020); Gathered Leaves, The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki (2016); Broken Manual, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York (2012); Mississippi Niagara, Triennale di Milano, Milan (2010); From Here to There: Alec Soth's America, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2010); The Last Days of W, Gagosian Gallery, New York (2009); NIAGARA, Gagosian Gallery, New York and Wohnmaschine, Berlin (2006).
Select group exhibitions include Not standing still: new approaches in documentary photography, Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne (2021); Her Story: A Century of Women Writers, National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C. (2020); Go Down Moses, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2019); Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins, Barbican Centre, London (2018); and In Focus: Expressions, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2018).
Published works include Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), NIAGARA (2006), Fashion Magazine (2007), Dog Days, Bogota (2007), The Last Days of W (2008), Broken Manual (2010), Songbook (2015), and Gathered Leaves (2015), which compiles 29 large postcards and four mini facsimiles of Soth's previous books with an essay by Aaron Schuman in an embossed clamshell box.
Elaine Y.J Zheng | Ocula | 2021
‘A photograph brings me so much joy, they’re beautiful objects,’ says Sir Elton John, discussing a remarkable collection of 25 works by some of the world’s greatest photographers, to be offered at Ch