Alec Soth Reveals A Gritty America

Review: Photography exhibit shows abandonment, loneliness, and the everyday person

If you're looking for bright, colorful photographs of cute kids and pretty neighborhoods, you won't find them in Alec Soth's exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art. And that's a good thing.

What you will find at “From Here to There: Alec Soth's America” is a representation of the real, gritty underbelly of the United States. Soth doesn't have to travel to exotic locations to awe audiences with scenery. His photographs show a side of America that most people will never experience.

Soth travels across the country to find intriguing people and places. When shooting photographs, he “has the curiosity and tenacity to uncover stories in his work, but the restraint to not reveal them fully.”Alec Soth, American (b.1969), Melissa, 2005

Many of Soth's photos are portraits of seemingly ordinary people. They aren't beautiful models or important, famous figures in society. He shows a graying woman holding a gold, gilded frame containing a picture of an “angel” made of wispy clouds. A child with pink hair leans against a table, a lily tucked behind her ear. The images are simple, but they make us wonder about the stories that these people have.

Some of the photos leave the viewer with a slightly eerie or uncomfortable feeling. The image of a submerged mattress in a swamp gives the viewer a feeling of stumbling across a forbidden site.

The images are not without a hint of subtle humor. A photo shows four inmates in orange scrubs leaning against their landscaping tools in the shadow of a cross monument. While outwardly a somber piece, a small detail is enough to make a viewer crack a grin: One of the men holds a chainsaw over his shoulder. A chainsaw hardly seems a suitable piece of equipment for a prisoner to be weilding.

A common theme that runs throughout Soth's work is loneliness. Most of his portraits feature only one person, which conveys a general theme of abandonment. Even when photos have more than one person in frame, they are usually staring right into the camera, not at each other. Though they may be surrounded by people, it doesn't mean they connect to them. The viewer can even feel this motif when people are not involved in the picture. A deserted old bed on a weathered front porch gives the viewer the same feeling.

Soth's camera technique goes against the rule of thirds that many photographers abide by. The rule dictates that the subject is kept to one side of the frame, not placed directly in the middle. Soth' subjects, however, are centered in the photographs and stare directly in the lens, looking at the audience.

These photographs aren't going to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside; that's not what Soth was going for. Instead, he succeeds at showing a real glimpse of American life.


Check it Out:

Soth's exhibit is on display at the Everson Musem until Jan. 12, 2012. The artist will be giving a lecture Nov. 4, 2011 at 7 p.m. at Everson. Visit Everson's website for more information.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.