Alec Soth's Archived Blog

August 31, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 12:12 am

In A Motel Parking Lot, Thinking Of Dr. Williams

By Wendell Berry


The poem is important, but
not more than the people
whose survival it serves,

one of the necessities, so they may
speak what is true, and have
the patience for beauty: the weighted

grainfield, the shady street,
the well-laid stone and the changing tree
whose branches spread above.

For want of songs and stories
they have dug away the soil,
paved over what is left,

set up their perfunctory walls
in tribute to no god,
for the love of no man or woman,

so that the good that was here
cannot be called back
except by long waiting, by great

sorrows remembered and to come
by invoking the thunderstones
of the world, and the vivid air.


The poem is important,
as the want of it
proves. It is the stewardship

of its own possibility,
the past remembering itself
in the presence of

the present, the power learned
and handed down to see
what is present

and what is not: the pavement
laid down and walked over
regardlessly–by exiles, here

only because they are passing.
Oh, remember the oaks that were
here, the leaves, purple and brown,

falling, the nuthatches walking
headfirst down the trunks,
crying “onc! onc!” in the brightness

as they are doing now
in the cemetery across the street
where the past and the dead

keep each other. To remember,
to hear and remember, is to stop
and walk on again

to a livelier, surer measure.
It is dangerous
to remember the past only

for its own sake, dangerous
to deliver a message
you did not get.

August 30, 2007

Louisville lecture

Filed under: lectures and exhibitions — alecsothblog @ 12:12 am

Tonight, August 30th, I’ll be giving a talk on my work at the Speed Museum of Art at 6pm. Info here and here (and Jen Bekman thinks she has name spelling problems).

August 28, 2007

Why bother?

Filed under: vernacular & Flickr — alecsothblog @ 8:08 am

I took my SFAI class to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to see a show by Joachim Schmid. All of Schmid’s work is made with found photography. One of the questions raised by this work is how professional photographers – plagued by self-consciousness – can ever match the visceral power of vernacular photography.

Today I became aware of the fabulous Picture Australia archive. Searching on the topic of ‘new south wales police dept,’ I once again wonder why I bother with photography. It seems unfair that an anonymous police photographer can be as good as Avedon and Arbus:

  • this topic previously discussed here

August 27, 2007


Filed under: goof,jump the sandwich,quizes & assignments — alecsothblog @ 10:26 am

A photography professor recently asked me how I was able to find time for this blog. The reason, I speculated, was that I wasn’t a photography professor. Teaching seems to draw from the same well as blogging. And after two weeks at the San Francisco Art Institute, my well is just about dry.

Please bear with me. It might take a couple of months to recover. Nevertheless, I promised to grade one last assignment: Jump the Sandwich

The goal of my recent sandwich jump critique was to push participants toward a looser style. Jens Holzapfel responded with an excellent version of ‘Munching by the Mississippi’:

photo by Jens Holzapfel

A couple more loose entries:

Monte Cristo sandwich plus Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero” (photo by Chase Allgood)

photo by Nicolaprincipato

photo by Michael Larky

Initially Michael Larky thought the photographer was supposed to do the jumping. I love the result. It looks like a picture Lise Sarfati might take while tripping:

photo by Michael Larky

Shawngust ignored my encouragement of looseness and made a picture that was tight in more ways than one:

photo by Shawn Gust

This seems to be a mini-trend in sandwich jumping photography:

photo by Guy Batey

As with my students in San Francisco, the sandwich jumpers turned my theories and expectations upside down. I’m not an enormous fan of either Duane Michaels or Francesca Woodman, but when Marissa Long and Andy McMillan put them together like slices of bread in a mystical sandwich (with the cat as ham and the hand shadow as cheese) the result is pure photographic magic. And before you ask, no, they didn’t use Photoshop to achive this effect.

Dear readers, here is your 2007 JTS winner:

photo by Marissa Long and Andy McMillan

  • To see all of the entries, go here

August 24, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 1:23 am

In yesterday’s obituary for Grace Paley on NPR, Neda Ulaby wrote:

Paley told her students at Sarah Lawrence College that writers need two ears: One ear, she said, for the literary canon, the stories and poems you study in school, and another for “family and childhood and specifically the ordinary language of your time — which, though I use the word ‘ordinary,’ is always extraordinary, I think.”

House: Some Instructions
by Grace Paley

If you have a house
you must think about it all the time
as you reside in the house so
it must be a home in your mind

you must ask yourself (wherever you are)
have I closed the front door

and the back door is often forgotten
not against thieves necessarily

but the wind oh if it blows
either door open then the heat

the heat you’ve carefully nurtured
with layers of dry hardwood

and a couple of opposing green
brought in to slow the fire

as well as the little pilot light
in the convenient gas backup

all of that care will be mocked because
you have not kept the house on your mind

but these may actually be among
the smallest concerns for instance

the house could be settling you may
notice the thin slanting line of light

above the doors you have to think about that
luckily you have been paying attention

the house’s dryness can be humidified
with vaporizers in each room and pots

of water on the woodstove should you leave
for the movies after dinner ask yourself

have I turned down the thermometer
and moved all wood paper away from the stove

the fiery result of excited distraction
could be too horrible to describe

now we should talk especially to Northerners
of the freezing of the pipe this can often

be prevented by pumping water continuously
through the baseboard heating system

allowing the faucet to drip drip continuously
day and night you must think about the drains

separately in fact you should have established
their essential contribution to the ordinary

kitchen and toilet life of the house
digging these drains deep into warm earth

if it hasn’t snowed by mid-December you
must cover them with hay sometimes rugs

and blankets have been used do not be
troubled by their monetary value

as this is a regionally appreciated emergency
you may tell your friends to consider

your house as their own that is
if they do not wear outdoor shoes

when thumping across the gleam of their poly-
urethaned floors they must bring socks or slippers

to your house as well you must think
of your house when you’re in it and

when you’re visiting the superior cabinets
and closets of others when you approach

your house in the late afternoon
in any weather green or white you will catch

sight first of its new aluminum snow-resistant
roof and the reflections in the cracked windows

its need in the last twenty-five years for paint
which has created a lovely design

in russet pink and brown the colors of un-
intentioned neglect you must admire the way it does not

(because of someone’s excellent decision
sixty years ago) stand on the high ridge deforming

the green profile of the hill but rests in the modesty
of late middle age under the brow of the hill with

its back to the dark hemlock forest looking steadily
out for miles toward the cloud refiguring meadows and

mountains of the next state coming up the road
by foot or auto the house can be addressed personally

House! in the excitement of work and travel to
other people’s houses with their interesting improvements

we thought of you often and spoke of your coziness
in winter your courage in wind and fire your small

airy rooms in humid summer how you nestle in spring
into the leaves and flowers of the hawthorn and the sage green

leaves of the Russian olive tree House! you were not forgotten

August 20, 2007

Location scouting

Filed under: goof,jump the sandwich — alecsothblog @ 11:48 pm

The ‘Happy Days’ room at the FantaSuite Hotel in West Bend, Wisconsin. Take the 360° tour here. Speaking of Happy Days, didn’t this all start with Fonzie?

August 19, 2007

‘Jump the Sandwich’ update

Filed under: goof,jump the sandwich,vernacular & Flickr — alecsothblog @ 11:59 am

I’m going to accept Sandwich Jumping assignments for another week. Entries should be posted at by Sunday, August 26th. Soon after I’ll announce the winner. Here is what I’ve seen so far.

photo by Mad_lips

photo by mph.silva

photo by Evephotographer

photo by Petermaxlawrence

This one scares me (I’m not sure I want this contest to be associated with the ‘Bloody Shots‘ pool):

photo by sam_252499

photo by dougphoto_com

photo by whileseated

Whileseated (Michael David Murphy) has the most popular ‘Sandwich Jump’ on Flickr. And while I’m a fan of Michael’s work (go to his website here) and I appreciate the technical prowess of both photographer and model, everything is a bit too perfect. I prefer the disorder of this picture:

photo by adrian1tyler1net

This picture reminds me a lot of Whileseated’s:

photo by LNpom

Again, this kind of virtuosity leaves me cold. But in her comments section, LNpom shows the picture without the post-processing:

photo by LNpom

This picture seemed much more alive. I wrote to LNpom to ask if I could have a full-sized version. In her reply, the French photographer described the challenges of making the picture: “It was not so easy because I did that alone and managing to be “flying” at the time of the flash AND in the frame AND looking at the camera is hard job. I usually don’t dress like that but I had in mind a flying pin up (like the american ones during the 50’s) with a sandwich.”

I also asked LNpom if she could send me a less ‘perfect’ exposure. The picture she sent gets at the spirit of the assignment. The ripples on the wall are a perfect example of Barthe’s idea of punctum. For me they evoke rubber rooms. Combined with LNpom’s pin-up idea, I imagine Marilyn Monroe if she’d been hospitalized before her suicide:

photo by LNpom

August 17, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 10:21 am

Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album
by Philip Larkin

At last you yielded up the album, which,
Once open, sent me distracted. All your ages
Matt and glossy on the thick black pages!
Too much confectionery, too rich:
I choke on such nutritious images.

My swivel eye hungers from pose to pose –
In pigtails, clutching a reluctant cat;
Or furred yourself, a sweet girl-graduate;
Or lifting a heavy-headed rose
Beneath a trellis, or in a trilby hat

(Faintly disturbing, that, in several ways) –
From every side you strike at my control,
Not least through these disquieting chaps who loll
At ease about your early days:
Not quite your class, I’d say, dear, on the whole.

But o, photography! as no art is,
Faithful and disappointing! that records
Dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds,
And will not censor blemishes
Like washing-lines, and Halls’-Distemper boards,

But shows the cat as disinclined, and shades
A chin as doubled when it is, what grace
Your candour thus confers upon her face!
How overwhelmingly persuades
That this is a real girl in a real place,

In every sense empirically true!
Or is it just the past ? Those flowers, that gate,
These misty parks and motors, lacerate
Simply by being over; you
Contract my heart by looking out of date.

Yes, true; but in the end, surely, we cry
Not only at exclusion, but because
It leaves us free to cry. We know what was
Won’t call on us to justify
Our grief, however hard we yowl across

The gap from page to page. So I am left
To mourn (without a chance of consequence)
You, balanced on a bike against a fence;
To wonder if you’d spot the theft
Of this one of you bathing; to condense,

In short, a past that no one now can share,
No matter whose your future; calm and dry,
It holds you like a heaven, and you lie
Unvariably lovely there,
Smaller and clearer the years go by.

August 12, 2007

Assignment: Jump the…

Filed under: goof,jump the sandwich,quizes & assignments — alecsothblog @ 11:12 pm

The Urban Dictionary defines the term Jump the Shark as:

To reach the point where the popularity of a show, movie, musician, or any other pop culture icon declines in popularity. Original meaning was the point when a television series shows it has run out of ideas and must resort to stunts to retain viewer interest (refers to an episode of The 1960’s TV show, “Happy Days” where Fonz jumps over a shark while water skiing, see also Jump the Couch).

After last week’s Flickr fireworks, I might just be ready to make the leap. But for the next couple of weeks I’m going to be teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute. Since I won’t have much time for the blog, I thought I’d hand out an assignment. I’m going to give the same assignment to my students in SFAI:


One of the fascinating things about Flickr is the phenomenon of Flickr groups. A couple of my favorites are Girls Eating Sandwiches and Bed Jumpers:

photos by A.R.E. (left) and Mirandala (right)

Your assignment, if you choose to accept it:

1) Photograph a woman* eating a sandwich** while jumping*** onto a bed.
2) Post the picture**** here:
3) I will award a prize to my favorite assignment.

*I will consider men with long hair, men wearing high heels or men who wear panties and lingerie
**Extra points will be given for grilled cheese sandwiches and/or UK sandwiches
*** I will consider this activity as an alternative to jumping
****Diptychs will be considered

August 10, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 5:57 am

from “The Congressional Library”
by Amy Lowell

Where else in all America are we so symbolized

As in this hall?

White columns polished like glass,

A dome and a dome,

A balcony and a balcony,

Stairs and the balustrades to them,

Yellow marble and red slabs of it,

All mounting, spearing, flying into color.

Color round the dome and up to it,

Color curving, kite-flying, to the second dome,

Light, dropping, pitching down upon the color,

Arrow-falling upon the glass-bright pillars,

Mingled colors spinning into a shape of white pillars,

Fusing, cooling, into balanced shafts of shrill and interthronging light.

This is America,

This vast, confused beauty,

This staring, restless speed of loveliness,

Mighty, overwhelming, crude, of all forms,

Making grandeur out of profusion,

Afraid of no incongruities,

Sublime in its audacity,

Bizarre breaker of moulds,

Laughing with strength,

Charging down on the past,

Glorious and conquering,

Destroyer, builder,

Invincible pith and marrow of the world,

An old world remaking,

Whirling into the no-world of all-colored light.

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