Museum Watch: Alec Soth at the Walker

Posted by David Ozanich — 14 Sep 2010


The Walker Art Center, a spectacular institution in Minneapolis, just mounted a 20-year retrospective of Minnesota-native Alec Soth’s photography titled “From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America.” The museum’s press release categorizes him as “working in a photographic tradition of road photography established by such figures as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Stephen Shore...”. They describe the show this way:

The Walker presents the first U.S. survey of the work of Alec Soth, one of the most compelling voices in contemporary photography, whose offbeat images of everyday America form powerful narrative vignettes. Featuring more than 100 photographs made between 1994 and the present, the exhibition includes examples from Soth’s well-known series Sleeping by the Mississippi and Niagara, a selection of rarely seen early black-and-white work, and a broad range of portraits. Also on view is the Minneapolis-based artist’s newest series, Broken Manual, exploring places of escape in and individuals who seek to flee civilization for a life “off the grid.”

He got his big break when he showed at the Whitney Biennial in 2004. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a very interesting and instructive look at his career:

The pictures Soth made along the Mississippi River in the late 1990s are the touchstone of his career, huge color portraits of revivalists, small-town prostitutes, empty beds, shabby rooms and lonely prisoners. As the signature image of the Whitney Biennial, "Charles," a flight-suited recluse holding model planes outside his shabby cabin, became an international sensation. Appearing three years after 9/11 shattered America's confidence in its exceptionalism and security, the "Mississippi" series resonated as a portrait of a free-spirited but desolate heartland.

You can check out “Sleeping by the Mississippi” and much of his other work on his website.


The Star-Tribune article touches on his methodology as well:

He made his reputation with color prints taken with huge old-fashioned cameras that produced 8-by-10-inch negatives he generally processed himself. Trained in traditional darkroom techniques, he couldn't afford to work in color until he won a McKnight Photography fellowship in 1999. The digital revolution has forced more changes. Until last year he shot everything on film, but he now shoots primarily with a digitized Hasselblad camera, which produces square images, or a high-resolution digital camera in a 35-millimeter-style format.

The show runs through January 2, 2011 and you can find relevant details here.

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