Alec Soth's Archived Blog

October 31, 2006

JoAnn Verburg

Filed under: artists — alecsothblog @ 10:22 pm


Regarding my post on underappreciated photographers, Gabrielle de Montmollin observed that only one woman made American Photo’s list. Among the endless list of women who deserve more attention, I’d like to highlight JoAnn Verburg. I first became aware of JoAnn when I saw her show at pARTs Gallery (now the Minnesota Center for Photography) in 1994. It remains my all-time favorite local exhibition. The salon-style show consisted of hundreds of pictures of JoAnn’s husband, the poet Jim Moore. In his review of the show in ArtForum, Vince Leo wrote:

Like Alfred Stieglitz’s portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe or Harry Callahan’s pictures of his wife Eleanor, Verburg’s photographs of Moore describe the dynamics of their relationship in photographic terms. But instead of Stieglitz and O’Keeffe’s heroic individualism or the Callahans natural harmony, Verburg and Moore’s photographic encounters are about the furtive pleasures available to those who aren’t afraid to look or be looked at.

But this has hardly been Verburg’s only achievement. She first made her name in the 1970’s with her participation (along with Mark Klett and Ellen Manchester) in the highly influential Rephotographic Survey Project.

Despite having showed at Robert Mann, Pace/McGill, MOMA and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, JoAnn doesn’t emphasize self-promotion. As a recent article mentioned, “She doesn’t have a bibliography, a biography or a resume, so I can’t look up where all her work is. She doesn’t know either.”

But the good news is that this is all about to change. In 2007 JoAnn will be having a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. You can read about it here. (If you are a collector, I recommend buying now!).

Verburg doesn’t have a website, but you can see examples of her work here and here and here.

October 29, 2006

Underrated photographers

Filed under: artists — alecsothblog @ 9:48 pm

Rochester N.Y., by Roger Mertin

My post on Denis Cameron and mention of Bill Burke brings up the subject of underappreciated photographers. In the current issue of American Photo, a dozen folks in the photo world were asked the question, “Whom do you classify as an underrated photographer, and why?”

I can understand Elliot Erwitt’s reluctance to single out just one. He wrote:

There are so many fine photographers who are underrated that it would be unfair to name just one. Look at the New York Times, where the quality of photography has so leaped forward – these are not known photographers, they’re just workaday photographers who take wonderful pictures. Recognition comes as a result of luck, timing and the situation at large.

Sam Abell mentioned a specific newspaper photographer I’d never heard of but am eager to learn more about: Pam Spaulding of the The Courier Journal in Louisville, KY. Does anyone know of images online from her thirty year project photographing a mom and her three kids?

Duane Michals only likes underrated photographers: “People who are ‘rated’ are people in the loop – trendy, hip,” He writes, “the truly original people, like Arthur Tress and Chema Madoz, are underrated.” He goes on to stir things up by saying, “Unless one brings imagination to observation, photography is simply reproducing reality. I like people who challenge reality, who don’t reinforce banality.”

I suspect Michals would hate my choice of Roger Mertin.

Mark Klett seems to be saying that all fine-art photography is underrated relative to the culture at large:

Fine-art photography is a very small world associated with galleries, museums, and university art programs. It’s not like rock music; the products of this world have never been widely seen because the artists are often exploring things that are not already coded in general consciousness. It’s not that photographers don’t want to be famous, it’s just that very few of the views from the edges of culture make the mainstream. Ansel Adams was an exception.

Photobook essays

Filed under: books,critics & curators — alecsothblog @ 9:26 pm

Today’s New York Times Book Review praises new books by Patricia Hampl and Richard Ford. I’m lucky to have had both authors write for me. I know that most photo book enthusiasts skip these essays. But I assure you these pieces are worthwhile. Taking a cue from Raymond Carver’s essay in Bill Burke’s Portraits, I urged the authors to refrain from specifically addressing my work or even mentioning my name. Can anyone think of other photo book essays that serve to enlarge the work rather than explain it?

(P.S. Maybe Holly Myers should look at Bill Burke).

Marden-mania at the Times

Filed under: goof,media — alecsothblog @ 4:05 pm

Dear New York Times editorial staff, I enjoyed reading Roberta Smith’s review of the Marden retrospective last Friday. As you might remember, I also enjoyed reading about Marden’s paper towel preference in last week’s fashion section. But enough is enough. In today’s Art Section I read: “On a bright fall day last month, the artist Brice Marden piloted his black Range Rover across a Hudson River bridge in the kind of late afternoon sun that he cherishes.” The New York Times has the most valuable real estate in arts journalism. Do you really need to use the front page of the Sunday Arts section to profile Marden’s four extravagant residences? (What about mine?)


October 28, 2006

After Arbus

Filed under: critics & curators — alecsothblog @ 11:28 pm

I like when artists or critics make grandiose and provocative declarations on art. It is usually rubbish, but at least gets you thinking. In her review of the Wolfgang Tillmans show, LA Weekly writer Holly Myers stirred the pot:

In thinking about Diane Arbus, as one does from time to time, I came to a distressing realization: that I couldn’t name a single photographer subsequent to Arbus (and Frank and Winogrand and Friedlander and Eggleston and the other greats of her generation) who ranked on anywhere near the same level, which is to say, who thrilled me near as broadly, deeply or consistently.

The distinction is more romantic than intellectual, I’ll admit — and therein lies the problem. Photography obviously didn’t disappear after 1971 (the year of Arbus’ death), but, like art generally, went the way of the intellect, exalting concept over impression, thinking over looking.

Read the full article here.

October 27, 2006

Denis Cameron

Filed under: artists — alecsothblog @ 6:15 pm

The other day I came across an obituary for the photographer Denis Cameron. I’d never heard of Cameron and probably wouldn’t have read the story if the first line didn’t state he was born in Minnesota. The obit went on to describe him as a ‘real-life Zelig’:

He seemed to pop up at every event of political and cultural significance for a few decades in the second half of the 20th century – except, unlike Woody Allen’s character, Cameron was the one behind the camera. He photographed Hollywood stars and the war in Vietnam; his pictures were the common denominator of the Prague Spring, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ayatollah Khomeini, Sophia Loren and Errol Flynn in a casket.

Fascinating. But a search on the web turned up next to nothing on Cameron. The little I found seemed to refer to, of all people, Richard Avedon:


This led me to Avedon’s book, The Sixties, which has this outstanding image of Cameron, Emerson and translator Nguyen Ngoc Luong:


The Avedon book includes a terrific interview with Gloria Emerson in which she speaks at length about Denis Cameron:

Did I talk to you about the time we went past the checkpoint and they opened fire? Denis and I were driving back because he had a girlfriend who’d come to see him in Phnom Penh and he was very upset because he thought a very smart English correspondent would take the girl away. I don’t know who he cared for most, the English correspondent who suddenly loomed up as a rival who he adored as a friend, or the girl who was very decorative and rather a famous English debutante we’d come to Phnom Penh in the midst of all this war. His own particular anguish over two friends in Phnom Penh who might have been, what?…holding hands in an opium den together…was so great he risked our lives. We drove past a checkpoint and I was very cross. It was dark – the North Vietnamese were all over the country – and he slowed down. And then the Cambodians opened fire. The car turned over and Denis and his interpreter got out and started running to a rice paddy to hide. I was slower and tripped and I got caught and I couldn’t find my handbag and the firing went on. Finally I got out of the car and thought, “It is simply too late. I won’t catch up with them.” And I looked and Denis had waited. He’d crawled a few feet and turned around and waited for me to come. And he had his hand out.
That was so extraordinary. He had waited. He was furious I took so long but he had waited. We crawled a big and sank in all this God-awful mud and Denis said something about, “You had to go back for your fucking handbad,” and then this splendid noble moment was over. We shouted that we were Americans and the Cambodians said in French they were sorry, they hoped we would forget the little incident. But I never forgot it. Because he waited. Not many people wait for many people, do they? I think one of the great things that you can see someone do is reaching out literally to save you. To show you the way. I’ll never forget this long arm going out to me. That may be love. I don’t know. Then, again, it might be better than love, don’t you think?

I want to know more about Cameron. I want to see his pictures. Does anyone have more information?

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 2:47 am

I’m currently visiting Memphis. So much music about this place, but not a lot of poetry. But C.D. Wright, who went to Memphis State, wrote this poem:


Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth
are small and even. I don’t get headaches.
Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench
where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.
If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas,
I’d meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could
have a big time. Danger, shoulder soft.
Do not lie or lean on me. I’m still trying to find a job
for which a simple machine isn’t better suited.
I’ve seen people die of money. Look at Admiral Benbow. I wish
like certain fishes, we came equipped with light organs.
Which reminds me of a little known fact:
if we were going the speed of light, this dome
would be shrinking while we were gaining weight.
Isn’t the road crooked and steep.
In this humidity, I make repairs by night. I’m not one
among millions who saw Monroe’s face
in the moon. I go blank looking at that face.
If I could afford it I’d live in hotels. I won awards
in spelling and the Australian crawl. Long long ago.
Grandmother married a man named Ivan. The men called him
Eve. Stranger, to tell the truth, in dog years I am up there.

I also want to share this answer to a question Wright gave in an interview in Jubilat:

Q: You’ve said, “I’m not a reliable critic, even for my own purposes.” Does that unreliability keep you open as a reader, and as a writer?

A: I don’t want to shut down. You see a recoiling from the adventure of new writing happening to people, and it’s not a place where I want to settle. Also, I remember in some recent interview I talked about coming to love Donald Judd’s work. When I was twenty-one I got a job at Park-Bernet Galleries, and pretty soon into the job we had a contemporary art show I did not like one bit. Most of all, I didn’t like the work of Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenberg, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns—I had never seen any of that stuff, and it all just looked ridiculous to me. However, over time I found that when I went to a museum I started going toward the new stuff, especially Donald Judd’s work, which did nothing except be there, you know. It was cool and beautiful, but it just didn’t evoke any references for me, and so I felt like I could be still, could be quiet with just a few copper boxes. And I feel like I look for that in writing too—somewhere I can get a clearing so that I can see something that I haven’t seen before. It’s very hard to find that clearing.

October 25, 2006

What if Jim Dine had Alzheimer’s?

Filed under: artists,career — alecsothblog @ 10:57 pm

My pal Karolina Karlic sent me a link to a fascinating article in the New York Times. William Utermohlen painted self-portraits of his decent into Alzheimer’s:


This is a truly remarkable group of images. But if you forget about the Alzheimer’s, the work looks a lot like Jim Dine’s self-portraits:


Maybe it would help Dine’s perception in the art world if he had Alzheimer’s. Dine is reviled almost as much at Botero. I’ll never forget reading Richard Polsky’s Artnet column recommending collectors sell Dine:

The truly great artists don’t rest on their laurels. They take risks and continue to explore new possibilities. Imagine what would have happened if the great artist Philip Guston had played it safe by sticking with his Abstract Expressionist style. Instead, he chanced everything by painting his now-famous quirky representational subject matter.

For whatever reason, Dine has never felt compelled to endure the painful soul-searching that Guston must have faced. Almost 40 years after painting his first heart and robe, he continues to crank out variations of the same images. This is not to be confused with the example of Gorgio Morandi and his wonderful still lifes. In Morandi’s case, his humble bottles and objects were painted over and over, with an ever greater sense of meaning and spirituality. Dine’s paintings lack that sort of depth. They are what they are — attractive depictions of a limited personal vocabulary.

I don’t know if it is fair to say he has played it safe. Certainly he has experimented. For example, Dine has spent a significant amount of energy producing photographs:

Singing Daily, 1998

But experimentation is not the same as struggle. The art world consensus is that Dine, like Botero, hasn’t struggled enough. Assuming Dine doesn’t aquire Alzheimer’s or commit suicide, what should he to do?

This is similar to the question raised in an earlier post about William Wegman. Whether an artist is successful for dogs or bathrobes, how do you sustain a career? Another recent post discussed the work of Bas Jan Ader. Ader’s entire oeuvre is about twelve minutes long. Much of the Ader legend is built on his disappearance while making In search of the miraculous. Might Wegman be just as highly regarded as Ader if one of the Weimaraners had snapped at his owner’s jugular? In other words, can an artist sustain critical credibility over the long-haul without biographical myth-making?

Photog Endorsements

Filed under: goof — alecsothblog @ 1:49 pm

In my Brawny vs. Bounty post, rugged Midwesterner Paul Shambroom writes that I’ve “pioneered the viability of photographers as celebrity endorsers.” But I’m afraid Ansel beat me to the punch in 1969 (the year of my birth) with his endorsement of Hills Bros. Coffee:


October 24, 2006

Art and Fashion Bounty

Filed under: media — alecsothblog @ 10:32 pm

Related to my post on Brice Marden, the current art issue of W magazine has 45 pictures by Stephen Shore of Marden’s Hudson River home. Not one picture shows a Bounty paper towel. (Nor did Leibovitz’s portrait for Vogue).

I wasn’t invited to the W Magazine Art issue party at Pace. The New York Post made it sound pretty interesting:

October 19, 2006 — NUDITY was the topic at the dinner Fairchild head Patrick McCarthy held in honor of W magazine’s first art issue at the Pace Wildenstein gallery in Chelsea the other night. “I was recently at an art function in Denmark when a man stood up during a speech and started shouting, ‘This is not art,’ ” said Pace Wildenstein’s part-owner Marc Glimcher. “The beautiful blonde he was with also stood up and pulled down her pants. The man then grabbed her posterior . . . It was odd.” The crowd checking out Richard Tuttle‘s art installation included WWD chief Ed Nardoza, W creative director Eddie Leide, Chuck Close, Brice Marden, Richard Prince, Mike Ovitz, Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg, Si Newhouse, Francisco Costa and photographer Phillip Lorca DiGorcia, who inexplicably fell out of his chair onto the floor during Tuttle’s speech.

Nevertheless, I did make it into the Blackbook art issue. Read James Frey’s nice piece about me here. Yes, that James Frey. Read a little blub (minus the fact-checking) here.

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