Alec Soth (born 1969, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States) is an American photographer, notable for “large-scale American projects” featuring the midwestern United States. His photography has a cinematic feel with elements of folklore that hint at a story behind the image. New York Times art critic Hilarie M. Sheets wrote that he has made a “photographic career out of finding chemistry with strangers” and photographs “loners and dreamers”. His work tends to focus on the “off-beat, hauntingly banal images of modern America” according to The Guardian art critic Hannah Booth. His work has been compared to photographers such as Walker Evans and Stephen Shore. He is a member of Magnum photo agency.
Soth has had various books of his work published by major publishers as well as self published through his own Little Brown Mushroom. His major publications are Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara and Broken Manual. He has received fellowships from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations and was the recipient of the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography. His photographs are in major public and private collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Walker Art Center. His work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the 2004 Whitney Biennial.
Soth studied at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. He was reported to be “painfully shy” in his youth.
Soth liked the work of Diane Arbus. He traveled around the Mississippi River and made a self-printed book entitled Sleeping by the Mississippi which included both landscapes and portraits.Curators for the 2004 Whitney Biennial put him in their show, and one of his photographs entitled “Charles”, of a man in a flight suit on his roof holding two model airplanes, was used in their poster.
When he photographs people, Soth feels nervous at times. He said: “My own awkwardness comforts people, I think. It’s part of the exchange.” When he was on the road, he’d have notes describing types of pictures he wanted taped to the steering wheel of his car. One list was: “beards, birdwatchers, mushroom hunters, men’s retreats, after the rain, figures from behind, suitcases, tall people (especially skinny), targets, tents, treehouses and tree lines. With people, he’ll ask their permission to photograph them, and often wait for them to get comfortable; he sometimes uses an 8×10 camera. He tries to find a “narrative arc and true storytelling” and pictures in which each picture will lead to the next one.
His first book, Sleeping by the Mississippi, was published in 2004. His second book, Niagara, was published in 2006. One of his photos is of a woman in a bridal gown sitting outside what appears to be a motel; he describes having made an arrangement with a particular wedding chapel in Niagara Falls which let him take pictures of couples getting married, by photographing them after their weddings.
Soth made several more photographic books including Last Days of W, a book about a country “exhausted by George W. Bush’s presidency”.
Soth has photographed for The New York Times Magazine, Fortune and Newsweek.
Soth, along with writer Lester B. Morrison, created Broken Manual over four years (2006-2010) an underground instruction manual for those looking to escape their lives. Soth investigates the places in which people retreat to escape civilization, he photographs monks, survivalists, hermits and runaways.
Soth concurrently produced the photo book From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America an overview of Soth’s photography from the early 1990s to the present.
Soth founded the publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom (LBM), in 2010. Through it, he publishes his own, and that of other like-minded people, “narrative photography books that function in a similar way to children’s books,” in book, magazine and newspaper formats. He has collaborated on numerous books with Brad Zellar, a Minnesota writer from the Twin Cities.
In 2010, Soth flew to the United Kingdom but was denied a work visa, but was allowed into the country with the understanding that if he was “caught taking photographs” he could be put in prison for two years. So he handed the camera to his young daughter who took pictures in Brighton.
In 2004, Soth became a nominee of the Magnum Photos agency and in 2008 he became a full member. He has expressed an interest in photographing “hermits, Scarlett Johansson, happy people, the Amazon, unusually tall people, Welsh countryside.” Soth is represented by Weinstein Gallery and Sean Kelly Gallery. He lives with his wife and children in Minneapolis.
2008 Bush Artist Fellowship
2008 PhotoVision Award
2006 Golden Light Book Award
2006 Deutsche Börse Prize (shortlisted artist)
2004 McKnight Photography Fellowship
2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography
2001 Minnesota State Arts Board
2001 MCAD / Jerome Fellowship
2001 Jerome Travel and Study Grant
1999 McKnight Photography Fellowship
2012 Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, USA
2011 Rome Interational Photography Festival, Rome, Italy
2010 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA
2010 Triennale di Milano, Milan, Italy
2009 Gagosian Gallery, New York, USA
2009 I M ART, Seoul, Korea
2009 Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, USA
2009 Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, USA
2008 Haunch of Venison, Zurich, Switzerland
2008 Fotomuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland
2008 Jeu de Paume, Paris, France
2008 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, USA
2007 Host Gallery, London, UK
2007 Power House, Memphis, USA
2006 Gagosian Gallery, New York, USA
2006 Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, USA
2005 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, USA
Albright-Knox Gallery of Art, Buffalo, NY
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA
Israel Museum of Contemporary Art, Jerusalem, Israel
LA County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, USA
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, USA
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, USA
Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, USA
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA
North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, USA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
2012 Ohio, Little Brown Mushroom, USA
2012 House of Coates, Little Brown Mushroom, USA
2011 Postcards from America, Magnum, USA
2011 The Auckland Project, Radius Books, USA
2011 Core Collections: Writings on Photography, Aperture, USA
2010 Broken Manual, Steidl, USA
2010 From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, Walker Art Center and Engberg, USA
2010 Brighton Picture Hunt, Photoworks, USA
2008 The Last Days of W, Little Brown Mushroom, USA
2007 Dog Days, Bogotá, Steidl, Germany
2007 Fashion Magazine, Magnum, Paris
2006 Niagara, Steidl, Germany
2005 The Making of Parts, photo essay Granta, issue 89
2004 Sleeping by the Mississippi, Steidl, Germany
2002 Vantage Points: Campus as Place (with Beth Dow and Chris Faust),Carleton College Press, Northfield, USA
1997 Linked to the Future: Minneapolis and St. Paul, (6 b/w plates), Towery Publishing, USA
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