Alec Soth's Archived Blog

November 30, 2006

Leonard Freed 1929-2006

Filed under: artists,Magnum,psa,quotes — alecsothblog @ 6:50 pm

Leonard Freed passed away on November 29th, 2006. Here are a few photographs and quotes from this great photographer:

Vatican City—Pope John XXIII enjoys the snow, 1958. ©Leonard Freed

“Photography is like life… What does it all mean? I don’t know – but you get an impression, a feeling…. An impression of walking through the street, walking through the park, walking through life. I’m very suspicious of people who say they know what it means.”

Denmark, 1971 ©Leonard Freed

“…a good photograph must have the element of good design: Everything within the photograph has to be essential. It’s never like a painting where you can have it perfect. It shouldn’t be absolutely perfect. That would kill it.”

Wall Street, New York, 1956©Leonard Freed

“Ultimately photography is about who you are. It’s the seeking of truth in relation to yourself. And seeking truth becomes a habit.”

Painting photography

Filed under: painting — alecsothblog @ 5:11 am

Robert Bechtle (via KQED)

Christian Patterson has an excellent post on the photorealist painter Robert Bechtle including this quote by Bechtle:

You can take photographs of something but you never possess it because it’s too fast…there’s something very intense about the experience of sitting down and having to look at it in the way that you do in order to make a drawing of it, or to make a painting of it.

Along with making me wish I were a painter, this quote got me to thinking (yet again) about the relationship between photography and painting. (Watch an excellent video on Bechtle and his mix of photographic and painterly techniques here).

Apparently a lot of people are thinking about the same thing. In the current issue of ArtReview, Martin Herbert has an essay called Spot the Difference, Are Contemporary Painting And Photography Simply Two Sides Of The Same Coin? The essay includes this quote from Luc Tuymans:

After seeing a film I try to figure out which single image is the one with which I can remember all of the moving images of the movie. Painting does the opposite; a good painting to me denounces its own size so that you are unable to remember it correctly. Thus it generates other images.

Himmler, 1997/98 by Luc Tuymans

Herbert questions whether or not this dialogue between painting and photography is good for either. “For now the liaison seems symbiotic,” he writes, before questioning “whether painting and photography will, in the near future, have anything constructive left to say to each other.”

One painter who has addressed this issue with humor is Alexi Worth:

Lenscap, 2006 by Alexi Worth

On ArtCritical, David Cohen writes of Worth:

As a critic and scholar, Mr. Worth has long been fascinated by the impact of photography on painting…A large black circle dominates “Lenscap” revealing a kind of amor vacuii; pinching finger tips confirm it to be the object of the title. In the right corner, deliciously rhyming with the cap and fingers, is a detail of Titian’s Adam and Eve from the Prado, the matriach’s finger’s surrounding the forbidden fruit. It is an elaborate allegory of painting’s fall from grace with the advent of photography, but its also a cutely observed contemporary museum moment. Part of his endeavor, as a practionner, seems to be to discover subjects that only painting can reach — photorealistically probing areas that, actually, can only be painted.

November 29, 2006

still more on Denis Cameron

Filed under: artists — alecsothblog @ 12:16 pm

Engaging comments by photojournalist David Burnett on Denis Cameron here.

Guess what, David also has a blog here

November 28, 2006


Filed under: photographs (not mine) — alecsothblog @ 10:25 pm

In my recent post on toy fatigue, I spoke of my failure to be fully immersed in digital media. I suspect the perfect vehicle for this kind of immersion is video games. I was an Atari kid, but haven’t kept up with it. The closest I get is by looking at pictures:


Click to enlarge

For more pictures, check out Richard Hines, Alex Harris, Magnum Photos and my buddy Todd Deutsch (be sure to also read Joerg Colberg’s recent interview with Todd here).

Art for your iPod

Filed under: filmmaking — alecsothblog @ 2:11 pm

Eight artists, including Jesper Just, have contributed video art for free on the site artPOD


Filed under: artists,lists — alecsothblog @ 11:24 am

I’m a sucker for year-end lists. Meaningless, sure, but they give you something to chew on besides fruitcake. The Online Photographer has a pretty entertaining list of the Ten Best Living Photographers. Number two on their list is James Nachtwey.

Last year I was inspecting some prints at Laumont in New York. On the wall I had a few of my Niagara images when Nachtwey walked in. Because I had a ton of prints to review, I suggested that he use the wall first. Before I had a chance to take down my prints, Nachtwey’s printer pinned up a large 9/11 image right on top of mine. It was revealing to watch my self-indulgent little poems being eclipsed by serious journalism.

Nachtwey’s recent work in Iraq is featured in an excellent digital slideshow here. The download times are long but definitely worth the wait.

November 27, 2006

‘responsive to my desires’

Filed under: photo tech — alecsothblog @ 11:25 pm


A recent post discussed the need for photographic equipment to mature from toy to tool – to become second nature. I recently came across a quote from Edward Weston that humorously addresses this issue. He is speaking of 1924 portrait he made of Tina Modotti:

I drew close – I whispered something and kissed her – a tear rolled down her cheek – and then I captured forever the moment – let me see – F.8-1/10 sec. K 1 filter – panchromatic film – how brutally mechanical and calculated it sounds – yet really how spontaneous and genuine – for I have so overcome the mechanics of my camera that it functions responsive to my desires….The moment of our mutual emotion was recorded on the silver film – the release of those emotions followed – we passed from the glare of sun on white walls into Tina’s darkened room – her olive skin and somber nipples were revealed beneath a black mantilla – I drew the lace aside…”

AIDS auction

Filed under: photographs (mine),psa — alecsothblog @ 6:01 pm

Angola, Louisiana (from the grounds of Angola State Prison), 2002 by Alec Soth

This Friday, December 1st, is Worlds AIDS Day. 401 Projects & DKNY Jeans is hosting a silent auction of photographs (including the one above) curated by Elisabeth Biondi, photo editor of The New Yorker. For more information, click here and here.


Filed under: filmmaking — alecsothblog @ 12:37 am

One addendum to my post on toy fatigue. I’m not a Luddite. And I do think there is remarkable work being done on the web. I’m particularly fond of digital slideshows. I think this has been a significant advancement in the storytelling possibilities of the medium.

Slideshows have always been a powerful format. But with analog slideshows the audience was severely limited. After years of reading about Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency, I didn’t actually see the slideshow until a couple of weeks ago (at the Chicago Art Institute as part of the terrific exhibition So the Story Goes).

The granddaddy of the digital slideshow is Pedro Meyer’s heart breaking, I Photograph To Remember. It was first released as a CD-Rom around 1991. What I loved about the CD was that it was a contained experience. I wasn’t surfing when I watched it. Needless to say my computer can no longer open it. Nevertheless it is available for free on the web here and Meyer is testing a podcast version of it here.

One recent development in the slideshow format has been the incorporation of digital flipbooks. The best example that I’ve found is Christopher Anderson’s Bolivian Elections. Tim Hetherington has also been doing interesting work. I recommend you look at it on the site foto8. Hetherington’s personal site,, is a perfect example of what I dislike about looking at work on the web.

I’d appreciate any links to significant photographic essays that incorporate slideshow and/or flipbook features.

November 26, 2006

Toy fatigue

Filed under: photo tech — alecsothblog @ 10:56 pm

Before leaving for Thanksgiving vacation with family in Colorado I made a trip to the computer store. I wanted extra storage space for my digital pictures. On a whim I decided to spend a bit more money and buy an iPod. This decision went against my recent ‘less pocket crap’ philosophy. Over the years I’ve owned a Minidisk player, a Palm Pilot and a half dozen pocket sized digital cameras. In each case I became exasperated with all of the cords, charges and docking stations. I succumbed to the iPod because of its elegance. Four buttons. One cord.

Before leaving for the Rocky Mountains (dial-up country), I downloaded a bunch of music and podcasts. I gave myself over to the new toy. Here are my reactions. First, I can hear the collective ‘duh’ when I say the iPod is great for music. More specifically, it is great for sound. I’m a big fan of audiobooks. I downloaded all seven CD’s of the current book I’m listening to – Larry Watson’s Orchard. It is a treat to have the whole thing in one small place.

My feelings about the podcasts are a bit more mixed. First let me say what I like. Unlike a web browser, the iPod is good at ‘containing’ information. When I look at podcasts on a browser, I never feel like I’m fully present. A momentary curiosity will have me checking email, news, and so on. Because everything on the web is linked, I feel like nothing is contained. By downloading it on my iPod, I’m a little less distracted.

With the iPod I was able to watch every Magnum in Motion podcast. I’d seen a handful before but always became web-distracted. But seeing these programs on the iPod brought up some other problems. First, the image is ridiculously small. Most of the Magnum images were too rich and complex for the tiny screen (The exception was Thomas Dworzak’s ‘7/7 The Longest Week‘ which seemed to have been shot for the iPod). My second problem was with the brevity of the programs. On the web all you want is a little teaser. It is all you have time for. But with the containment of the iPod I wanted a fuller experience. The Magnum programs were too short. I searched the web looking for video and slideshow podcasts that would give me a more complete artistic experience; I looked for programs that could immerse me in their small-screen world. My search was unsuccessful.

Of course the era of the podcast is still quite young. So perhaps great artistry will emerge. But this is where I really get frustrated. I don’t think it has time to emerge. Next year the iPod will have a bigger screen. The year after that it will have a web browser. And the year after that it will be obsolete as some new unforeseen technology takes over. The medium only has time to be a toy. It never has time to mature into a tool.

This is the same problem I have with digital photography. The potential is always remarkable. But the medium never settles. Each year there is a better camera to buy and new software to download. The user never has time to become comfortable with the tool. Consequently too much of the work is merely about the technology. The HDR and QTVR fads are good examples. Instead of focusing on the subject, users obsess over RAW conversion, Photoshop plug-ins, and on and on. For good work to develop the technology needs to become as stable and functional as a typewriter.

After hours spent playing with my new iPod, I set it aside to read a book. While I thought the iPod was elegant, nothing beats the book. No downloading. No batteries. No cords. No ads. No links. No distractions. The format is so elegant that it becomes transparent. It is the perfect container for art.

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