Alec Soth's Archived Blog

May 29, 2007

Portfolio Review

Filed under: Magnum,psa — alecsothblog @ 4:39 pm

There is nothing more valuable for emerging artists than getting an honest and in-depth reaction from established professionals. But it isn’t easy. Professionals normally don’t have time to be teachers.

Every week I get numerous emails asking me to review work online. Even if I had time, I don’t feel capable of sinking my teeth into jpegs. Moreover, it seems impossible to give a worthwhile reaction without having a face-to-face discussion.

This is why I’m a big believer in portfolio reviews. These reviews provide a time and place for genuine exchange. As I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, I’m a fan of Review Santa Fe. It is a great place to get the opinions of editors, publishers and galleries. But the one thing Santa Fe doesn’t offer is the opinions of established working photographers.

Magnum Photos is helping to fill this gap with its first Portfolio Review event. On Sunday, June 17th, visitors can meet with three of the following photographers in New York City:

  • Larry Towell
  • Alec Soth
  • Susan Meiselas
  • Trent Parke
  • David Alan Harvey
  • Jim Goldberg
  • Mark Power

School can be great, but there is so much filler. For tens of thousands of dollars, you sit in circles and talk in circles. Here, for $250, you can cut to the chase with both up-and-comers and established legends.

This is going to fill up quickly. So if you are interested, click here for details and an application.

May 24, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 10:14 pm

“More Photography, Less Poetry,” someone wrote after last week’s Friday Poem. So, dear John, this post is for you. Here are fifteen images that I found when I searched Google Images for the term ‘Motherless.’


Now for the Friday Poem. Don’t worry, it is a short one:

One-Word Poem
by David R. Slavitt


Discussion questions.

1. Is this a joke? And, if so, is it a joke of the poet in which the editor of the magazine (or, later, the book publisher or the textbook writers) has conspired? Or is it a joke on the editors and publishers? Is the reader the audience of the poem?

2. It is regrettable not to have a mother. Is the purpose of the poem to convey an emotion to the reader? Does the poet suppose that this is the saddest word in the language? Do you agree or disagree? Can you suggest a sadder word?

3. The Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary gives an alternate meaning from nineteenth- and twentieth-century Australian slang as an intensifier, as in “stone motherless broke.” Can you assume that the poet knew this? Does this make for an ambiguity in the poem? Does this information change your emotional response?

4. If the assertion of the single word as a work of art is not a joke, then what could it mean? Is it a Dada-ist gesture, amusing and cheeky perhaps but with an underlying seriousness that the poet either invites or defies the reader to understand?

5. Even if the poet was merely fooling around, does that necessarily diminish the possible seriousness of the poem?

6. If we acknowledge that this is a work of art, can the author assert ownership? Is it possible to copyright a one-word poem?

7. In writing a one-word poem, the crucial decision must be which word to choose and to posit as a work of art. Do you think the poet spent a great deal of time picking this word? Or did he simply open a dictionary and let his fingers do the walking? Does that diminish the poem’s value? Or is it a kind of bibliomancy?

8. Should the word have been in quotes? Or is it quotes even without being in quotes? There is a period at the end of the poem. Would it change the meaning of the poem if there were an exclamation point? Or no punctuation at all? Would that be a different poem? Better or worse? Or would you like it more or less? (Are these different questions?)

9. You can almost certainly write—or “write”—a one-word poem. But it would be difficult for you to get it published—almost certainly more difficult now that this one has been published and staked its claim. Is the publication of a poem a part of the creative act? Had the poet written his poem and put it away in his desk drawer as Emily Dickinson used to do, would this make it a different poem?

10. Some poems we read and some that we particularly like, we memorize. You have already memorized this one. Do you like it better now? Or are the questions part of the poem, so that you have not yet memorized it? Will you, anyway? Do you need to memorize the questions verbatim, or is the idea enough?

May 23, 2007


Filed under: on blogging,psa — alecsothblog @ 10:30 pm

Tired of checking for blog updates? Try Google Reader. It is an easy way to check all of your favorite blogs at once.

Justin & Karolina

Filed under: artists,minnesota — alecsothblog @ 10:11 pm

Justin James Reed and Karolina Karlic have been selected for the latest edition of Hey, Hot Shot! Just remember, I knew them before they were superstars:


He might not be in the show, but Robert Marbury rb2.jpghas already been written about in the New York Times.

Why blog when you could be doing porn?

Filed under: artists,on blogging,quotes — alecsothblog @ 1:05 am

Yesterday came the question, “Why did I think I needed a blog?” Looking for an answer, my first Google search led to an evangelical bloggers Top 50 Reasons to Blog. Here is one:

This is what I’ve called the ‘Google Parable’: Reciprocal linkage helps all the boats on the (search engine) river rise. Actually, Jesus said it first, “Love one another; prefer one another”. But if we won’t listen to Jesus, perhaps the new-paradigm giant will convince us. Networks of ‘driven’ Christians can impact society more than individuals or self-serving churches.

But I’m not sure that either Jesus or the ‘new-paradigm giant’ is the right answer for me.

Next I turned to the Washington Post. In an article entitled Bloggers on the Reasons Behind Their Daily Words, this fellow was quoted:

Having lived with the same woman for nearly 20 years and learning from her that nothing I had to say was ever right, I discovered early that things worked best between us if I would just keep my mouth shut. Well, one can only imagine what it must have felt like after the kids were grown and we finally parted company. I could actually begin to write and speak my mind without the slightest fear of reprisal or being made to feel like an idiot. I understood what the freedom to speech was truly about.

That one doesn’t quite work either. I’m not looking for my blog to replace my wife. But I guess it does fulfill a certain kind of social need. “We read about the Cedar Tavern, and it sounds so romantic,” I said in a recent interview with ArtKrush, “but what if you live in Minneapolis with two kids? The blog is as close as I get to the Cedar Tavern.”

But the truth is that I can’t blame Minneapolis and the two kids. I’ll never forget going to one of the artist parties for the 2004 Whitney Biennial. I felt like I was in high school and had accidentally stumbled into the cool-kids party. I approached one well-established artist and introduced myself. She didn’t even respond before turning around and walking away.

One of the artists at that party was Zak Smith. We didn’t talk much, but he actually seemed smart and nice. Since that time, we’ve both acquired new hobbies. I’ve started blogging and Zak has started doing porn.

Smith’s motivation for his hobby doesn’t seem too different from my own. “I’m living off my paintings and have been for years,” he said in a recent interview, “I’m involved in porn mostly because the social life of the art world is like living death.”

Whatever you think about Zak Smith or his Zak Sabbath alter-ego, he is an engaging conversationalist. Read this exchange from a fantastic interview about Smith’s book, Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow:

Terri Saul: Gravity’s Rainbow is one of the most drug-ridden novels ever written. When considering your illustrations of it, I thought about Glenn Gould, a musician who experimented with both drugs and classical music. Do you ever use drugs while working?

Zak Smith: 1-Drugs are very popular among people who are interested in interesting things but are not themselves very interesting.

2-Drugs make your body do weird things–so they’re interesting if you’re in the performing arts.

3-Drugs make boring things seem interesting, so products created by people while they are on drugs are often really boring.

Glenn Gould is a pretty good example of all three of these propositions–his rendition of Webern’s piano opus–(23 or 28?)–is amazing, but when he sits down and writes his own stuff, he’s terrible and derivative.

What I do–and what most fine artists do–is not a performing art, so drugs just do to you what they do to everyone else: they make you suck and then waste everyone’s time pretending you sucked for some non-drug reason.

I mean, in art school if there was some minimalist who made like a 2 by 4 except it was purposefully off by a quarter-inch and that was their art, you knew that guy was either on speed or a big pothead. When you look at all that crap conceptual art from the sixties and seventies–drugs.

Anyone with half an eyeball knows Victor Moscoso is obviously waaaaaaaay better then Andy Warhol–unless you’re on LSD, in which case they’re both exactly the same–green next to magenta, fuuuuuuck duuuuude. Then you sober up and have to defend how much you liked it and well, Andy’s got some old photo of Jackie O in it so you pretend you like it because it was like socially relevant and shit and Victor Moscocco just has a cool picture of a dinosaur so you just pretend you never saw it.

Big muddy neo-expressionist art that looks exactly like every other big muddy painting anyone accidentally made ever? Cocaine.

The funny part is then the critics have to scramble back to their desks and write 80-page essays about why they think Andy Warhol is good that DON’T just say “Sorry, sorry, I was on drugs.”

Terri Saul: Gravity’s Rainbow is a book–at least in part–about how information can tend toward entropy. What is your view of our current information-saturated culture?

Zak Smith: Ok, here’s a view–in newspapers with huge circulations we got headlines saying the president is a felon who lies about pretty much everything all the time and doesn’t know where Sweden is and most people in his country either don’t vote or decide to re-elect him and I got a myspace page which says “Don’t send blind friend requests, explain who you are first” and I get blind friend requests every day.

Information is only information if people are not total morons–however, people are total morons. Therefore we do not live in an information-saturated culture, we live in a Brad-Pitt-and-whatshername-just-had-a-baby- saturated-culture where smart people who care can find what they need when they have to if they’re lucky and we always have and we always will.

Makes me wish Zak Smith had a blog. (A great example of how he would handle readers here). But, then again, maybe I should be doing porn.

May 21, 2007

back online?

Filed under: on blogging — alecsothblog @ 10:27 pm

I’m home from a couple of weeks of shooting and have almost nothing to say. I saw two shows (Tim Davis and Candida Höfer at the Knoxville Museum of Art), listened to two audio books (Black Dahlia and The Hoax) and watched most of Season 3 of The Wire.

Nothing to say.

After 4,000 miles alone in the van I’ve forgotten how to spiel. And I’m not sure this is a bad thing. My friend Eric recently linked to an article called Surviving a Month Without Internet (Interestingly, the author Stephen Elliot also mentions that he spent time watching The Wire):

I wasn’t just breaking the Internet habit, I was breaking the habits I had learned on the Internet: that addiction to continual bursts of small information.

I started reading a lot more books, which is good for me since I’m a person who writes books. And I read more challenging books…I could feel my attention span lengthening…

I made some decisions for my own Internet usage when I got back online. The first thing I did was replace my blog with an advertisement for my books. Why did I think I needed a blog?


May 17, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 11:55 pm

by Charles Wright

It’s all so pitiful, really, the little photographs
Around the room of places I’ve been,
And me in them, the half-read books, the fetishes, this
Tiny arithmetic against the dark undazzle.
Who do we think we’re kidding

Certainly not our selves, those hardy perennials
We take such care of, and feed, who keep on keeping on
Each year, their knotty egos like bulbs
Safe in the damp and dreamy soil of their self-regard.
No way we bamboozle them with these

Shrines to the woebegone, ex votos and reliquary sites
One comes in on one’s knees to,
The country of what was, the country of what we pretended to be,
Cruxes and intersections of all we’d thought was fixed.
There is no guilt like the love of guilt.

May 11, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 6:49 am

Ruined Histories

by August Kleinzahler

You so love these photographs, too well perhaps,
and rush to frame the moment, press the shutter,
and get along with this dollhouse saga
you had rehearsed before it ever came to be.

Ah, Little Girl Destiny, it’s sprung a leak
and the margins are bleeding themselves away.
You and I and the vase and stars won’t stay still.
Wild, wild, wild–kudzu’s choked the topiary.

Looks like your history is about to turn
random and brutal, much as an inch of soil or duchy.
Not at all that curious hybrid you had in mind:
Jane Austen, high-tech and a measure of Mom.

You’re lost, desolate as Savannah after Sherman.
The lavender sachet, marbled storybooks,
the ring Grandma left you, poor Damien’s love letters . . .
It’s just your eyes, ass, me and a broken Nikon.

May 4, 2007

Friday Poem / Prayer

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 7:37 am

Pamela Anderson week on the blog is over and I need a break. I’m going to be on the road and off the computer for a couple of weeks. While I’m gone, I leave you with this prayer:


May 3, 2007

Art & Dubai

Filed under: Pamela Anderson — alecsothblog @ 10:28 pm

Yesterday, the Mirror reported that Tommy Lee and ex-wife Pamela Anderson are buying a luxury home together in Dubai. Lee and Anderson bought “Greece” – one of the three hundred man-made islands forming The World off the coast of Dubai:


We’re going for Greece because I’m Greek originally, says Lee, “Pamela actually turned me on to the whole thing. Life is good now. I’m happy because I’m seeing my boys again.”

Once again, where Pamela goes, the art world follows.

In the May issue of Modern Painters, Matthew Collings writes about visiting the first Dubai DIFC Art Fair:

Pampered seminude white people cross my field of vision, give the Indians a glance, and disappear, and just as I’m thinking, “Wow, Martin Parr, great capturer of new social stereotype situations, should be here photographing all of this,” Martin Parr himself appears and takes a picture.

Dubai. 2007. Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

The way people dressed and their demeanour was very Bling,” writes Parr on the Magnum Blog, “not a word I have encountered much, but you know it when you see it.”

But the highlight for Parr wasn’t the blue-chip art:

Just before I left I was taken to a small souk in Sharjah where they actually sell things old, not an easy thing to locate in Dubai. There, to my amazement, was a fantastic selection of Saddam Hussein plates, vases and ornaments…So I returned, rather pleased with myself, with a huge bag full of Saddam pottery.

In the Modern Painters article, Matthew Collings talks about the “transubstantiation of bilge into stuff of awe.” But the bilge he’s talking about isn’t cultural ephemera like Saddam pottery:

It’s only a matter of time before the emirates’ superrich have the same funny relationship to contemporary art that we have in the West: alienated familiarity. We’ve gotten used to a spectacular culture of art in which we both question the bullshit and buy the bullshit. The bullshit is bullshit but at the same time it’s a status symbol: “Look at me! I own the bullshit they’re all questioning!” This is the paradox the art-fair people are now in the process of selling to the wealthiest people in the world.

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