Alec Soth's Archived Blog

January 28, 2007

La Belle Vie

Filed under: Cat,editorial photo,Paris, MN,portraiture — alecsothblog @ 4:26 pm

Some of you are getting very close to solving my celebrity photographer quiz. Meanwhile, I’m busy photographing celebrities. Longtime readers of this blog will appreciate this snapshot:

Photographing Cat Power, Paris

January 26, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 1:38 am

I’m currently in Paris. Working like a dog (no time to blog) – but eating like a prince.

The Bistro Styx
by Rita Dove

She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her. What’s this,

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that’s when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a kittenish cashmere skirt and cowl

down to the graphite signature of her shoes.
“Sorry I’m late,” she panted, though
she wasn’t, sliding into the chair, her cape

tossed off in a shudder of brushed steel.
We kissed. Then I leaned back to peruse
my blighted child, this wary aristocratic mole.

“How’s business?” I asked, and hazarded
a motherly smile to keep from crying out:
Are you content to conduct your life
as a cliché and, what’s worse,

an anachronism, the brooding artist’s demimonde?
Near the rue Princesse they had opened
a gallery cum souvenir shop which featured
fuzzy off-color Monets next to his acrylics, no doubt,

plus beared African drums and the occasional miniature
gargoyle from Notre Dame the Great Artist had
carved at breakfast with a pocket knife.

“Tourists love us. The Parisians, of course”–
she blushed–“are amused, though not without
a certain admiration . . .”
The Chateaubriand

arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute
in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming
like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy;
one touch with her fork sent pink juices streaming.

“Admiration for what?” Wine, a bloody
Pinot Noir, brought color to her cheeks. “Why,
the aplomb with which we’ve managed
to support our Art”–meaning he’d convinced

her to pose nude for his appalling canvases,
faintly futuristic landscapes strewn
with carwrecks and bodies being chewed

by rabid cocker spaniels. “I’d like to come by
the studio,” I ventured, “and see the new stuff.”
“Yes, if you wish . . .” A delicate rebuff

before the warning: “He dresses all
in black now. Me, he drapes in blues and carmine–
and even though I think it’s kinda cute,
in company I tend toward more muted shades.”

She paused and had the grace
to drop her eyes. She did look ravishing,
spookily insubstantial, a lipstick ghost on tissue,
or as if one stood on a fifth-floor terrace

peering through a fringe of rain at Paris
dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue
wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral.

“And he never thinks of food. I wish
I didn’t have to plead with him to eat. . . .” Fruit
and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes.

I stuck with café crème. “This Camembert’s
so ripe,” she joked, “it’s practically grown hair,”
mucking a golden glob complete with parsley sprig
onto a heel of bread. Nothing seemed to fill
her up: She swallowed, sliced into a pear,

speared each tear-shaped lavaliere
and popped the dripping mess into her pretty mouth.
Nowhere the bright tufted fields, weighted

vines and sun poured down out of the south.
“But are you happy?” Fearing, I whispered it
quickly. “What? You know, Mother”–

she bit into the starry rose of a fig–
“one really should try the fruit here.”
I’ve lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.

January 21, 2007

Quiz: Name the photographer

Filed under: quizes & assignments — alecsothblog @ 3:07 am


I’m going to be on a demanding assignment for the next few weeks and won’t have much time to write. Here is a brainteaser for while I’m gone. Name the 24 celebrity photographers who took the pictures below. I’ll send a signed print to the first person that can correctly name them all before I return.


January 19, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 3:15 am

The Artist
by Peter Schjeldahl (1972)

The artist does not want to deal with the world.
He wants the world to deal with him.
He realizes that, to this end, he needs the help of others.
Gaining this help involves him in a series of accommodations for
which he despises himself and those who help him.
That one day he is a success, and it seems to be exactly what he
had imagined it would be
Money, of course, but also the sense that an unlimited number of
possibilities for experience await his leisure.
His former friends and supporters now hate him, but even among
themselves they pay tribute to his talent.
His work proceeds satisfactorily.
He cultivates what he regards as a rich gamut of eccentricities.
At some parties he is taciturn, at others garrulous.
He finds it increasingly easy to satisfy his limited, if mildly
irregular, sexual appetites.
He collects Art Deco one year, Navajo blankets the next – or,
rather, he has assistants collect for him.
He is appalled to realize that he has a drinking problem.
He is bothered by a feeling that his progress in life has somehow
fallen behind schedule.
He becomes obsessed with the thought that he must create a
monumental, devastatingly original work.
After a period of intense application, he does so.
The public reaction is favorable, but no one seems devastated.
This throws him into a lengthy depression.
He is surprised by the thought that his reputation has gotten out of
Every month or two he reads a new article by some idiot, praising
The occasional intelligent article – which he often has trouble
understanding – fills him with a vague uneasiness.
Surrounded by assistants and dealers and involved in endless
projects, he feels like an industry.
He finds that he can do without parties.
He manages to quit drinking for weeks at a time.
He worries about his health, which is perfect.
He reminds himself continually that he can do whatever he wants.
But all he can think to do is work.

January 18, 2007


Filed under: critics & curators — alecsothblog @ 5:58 am

Today I’m off to Los Angeles. Since this has become Schjeldahl Week, I’ll share a story from his 1981 essay, L.A. Demystified! Art and Life in the Eternal Present:

Rusha dates starlets, always has. Once when I went to lunch with him at a restaurant near the Paramount lot, various angelic forms seemed to throw themselves at him out of the air. “Oh, Ed!” Bashful, smiling, folksy (from Oklahoma), Ruscha wears soft casual, terrific clothes and, always, terrific shoes. (Once, seated between two of the town’s top veteran artists at a dinner party, I heard absolutely nothing all evening but cars and shoes. Were they trying to drive me crazy?)

The reason I’m going to LA is to give a lecture (more info here). Like Schjeldahl, I hail from Minnesota. (Oklahoma natives are much more sophisticated). I don’t have soft casual clothes. I don’t date starlets. Please come to the lecture, but don’t laugh at my shoes.

January 16, 2007

Joy in Mudville

Filed under: baseball,lists — alecsothblog @ 10:08 pm

For years I’ve been a listener of Sports Talk radio. I don’t watch the games. I don’t care who wins. I just enjoy the mindless but detailed debate. It is a joy to listen to the nerds and statisticians sink their teeth into something entirely meaningless.

I have a craving for a similar kind of discussion in the arts. Awhile back I toyed with an exercise on charting photographers. (I never did figure out the Y axis). Not long afterward I encountered a much more elaborate literature map. I’m waiting for someone to apply a similar algorithm to the visual arts. The closest I’ve seen is Peter Schjeldahl’s appropriation of the ultimate nerd-stat paradigm, the baseball lineup:

Cindy Sherman, third base: middling range but super quickness, Gold Glove, hasn’t missed a ball hit her way in two seasons…disciplined hitter, pulls inside pitch for distance…selfless player, cinch to sac bunt or hit behind runner

Anselm Kiefer, first base: two-ton Teuton, just adequate at position, can be bunted on…fearsome slugger, aggressive, bad-ball hitter, can take anything downtown…slow but intimidating on bases, catcher advised not to block.

Brice Marden, second base: keystone pro, range limited but good jump, unreal pivot…tough out, sometime power…knows the game, team captain.

Frank Stella, starting pitcher: ageless vet, owns the ball…heat diminished but sneaky with awesome pitch assortment, super control, mixes speeds, throws changeup for strike…competitor, will brushback.

Ed Rusha, short relief: submarine delivery…indifferent heat but slider and screwball sparkle, keeps everything low.

General Managers: Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns

Grounds crew: Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer

I’m sorry for turning this into Schjeldahl Week, but I’ve been reading Hyydrogen Jukebox and it is just too good. The only problem with the baseball lineup is that it is dated. (1982, from the essay Clemente to Marden to Kiefer). What would the lineup look like 25 years later? Who would be playing in Mudville – Barney at the bat?

January 15, 2007

Mr. Cotter

Filed under: critics & curators,education — alecsothblog @ 11:24 pm


It is not exactly Rosie vs. Trump, but critics Tyler Green and Regina Hackett have tried to suggest a philosophical difference between NYTimes critic Holland Cotter and myself. For the record, Mr. Cotter gave me one of my first national reviews. It was a good one. I forever kiss his critical feet. If he wants art to be educational, I’m ready to be his Vinnie Barbarino.

All joking aside, I don’t think there is a big battle between beauty vs. education. To quote another critic, Peter Schjeldahl, “Beauty is not a concept. It is the animal joy of the mind.”

The End

Filed under: aesthetics,critics & curators — alecsothblog @ 1:07 am

Just like Pat Robertson (watch this), I’ve got apocalypse on the brain. My Top Eleven for 2006 included two depictions of the End Days (The Road, Children of Men). Pat and I aren’t alone. “Apocalypse is on our minds,” Kurt Anderson wrote in New York Magazine, “Apocalypse is … hot. “ But Anderson goes on to say that this trend is nothing new:

Apocalypticism has ebbed and flowed for thousands of years, and the present uptick is the third during my lifetime…but this time, it seems, more widespread and cross-cultural, both more reasonable (climate change, nuclear proliferation) and more insane (religious prophecy), more unnerving.

The art critic and poet Peter Schjeldahl spoke about these waves of nihilism in his 1978 essay, The Hydrogen Jukebox, Terror, Narcissism, and Art:

The present widespread disarray and morbidity of the arts in Western civilization represent, it occurs to me, a long-term toxic effect of the atom-bomb terror of the last three decades…Most insidious of the terror’s by-products is what I’ll call the no-future effect. Conditioned to living on the eve of doomsday, we have lost the ability to conceive of a future stretching farther than our own most distant personal goals or responsibilities.

Schjeldahl goes on to explain how this has changed the role of the contemporary artist:

The personality type of our time is the narcissist. Obsessively self-regarding, self-referential, self-consuming, the narcissistic personality finds authenticity only in the moment-to-moment convincingness of bodily sensations and mental events. The narcissistic artist or poet offers to a shadowy public evidence of the dramatizations of these sensations, inviting that public to join in the self-contemplation. Anger, at world or self, alternates with a husky or antic seductiveness, a siren song of love and death or sexy fun, and with abject complaining, the cries of the abandoned baby within.

Nearly thirty years after Schjeldahl’s essay, not much has changed. Along with plenty of terror, narcissism in the arts is alive and well (note my recent post on Snow & Koh). But do artists have a choice? “Deprived of the anchor of the past and the rudder of a future,” writes Schjeldahl, “the new personality is as helpless as a paper boat on the ocean.”

Maira Kalman

Filed under: artists,painting — alecsothblog @ 12:58 am


I recently discussed an illustration by Maira Kalman, but until today was unfamiliar with her whimsical mash of photography, painting and poetry. I often dislike it when artists try to squish these things together on a single plane. Usually each medium is stripped of its power and the work collapses under the weight of so much effort. I guess it is Kalman’s light touch that makes the whole thing work. See her new series, Completely, on her NYTimes Blog.

January 12, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry,shit — alecsothblog @ 1:55 am

by Beth Woodcome

This morning the three dogs shat
on the floor and that’s what I woke to.

Before I even woke my body took itself
in, took it in like an immediate mother would.

Not every mother, but let’s get back to you.
One dog is now sleeping at my feet.

I know how that feels, that shame.
This is my sixty-seventh postcard.

Each time, when I say
I wish you were here

I mean to say I don’t know if you’re real
or intend to hurt me by having a body I can’t get to.

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