Alec Soth's Archived Blog

March 31, 2007

Crying & Flying – Part 5

Filed under: crying & flying — alecsothblog @ 8:19 am

Leaving for Paris and feel like crying. Sprung has Spring. The kids are chirping. The birds are on their tricycles. The blog goes quiet.

(I’d rather be eating McMuffins in Minneapolis).

March 30, 2007

John Shabel (Crying and Flying – Part 3)

Filed under: artists,crying & flying — alecsothblog @ 2:30 pm

Passenger #2, 1995, by John Schabel

I’m a big fan of John Shabel’s series, Passengers. Over several years, Shabel shot thousands of grainy photographs of airplane passengers from which he selected fifteen images. Along with photographing at night (in order to see inside the plane), Shabel liked to shoot while it rained because it meant the planes were more likely to be delayed on the tarmac. This mix of rain, darkness and grain gives the pictures an especially somber mood.

In an interview with Egg, Shabel describes his pictures as portraits (and reminds me of the recent discussion of unconscious models):

I think of the “Passenger” photographs as portraits. They’re different from portraits in that the person being photographed is unaware. The passenger is unaware and locked inside an airplane, and the photographer is maybe a hundred yards away in the dark — and possibly under surveillance himself — but even so, the images tend to feel kind of intimate in that situation. I mean, that’s what was fascinating to me about that situation with the person locked inside an airplane. There’s no interaction. They’re unaware they’re being photographed, and I was very far away, maybe a hundred yards in the dark with this long lens and very nervous about someone watching me, and it was a very tense situation. Even so, the images would feel very quiet, and almost intimate.

  • Shabel’s pictures bring to mind Merry Alpern’s Dirty Windows and Todd Heisler’s amazing picture, Reno Airport (previously discussed here).

Friday Poem (Crying and Flying – Part 2)

Filed under: crying & flying,poetry — alecsothblog @ 7:04 am

The Threat
by Denise Duhamel

my mother pushed my sister out of the apartment door with an empty
suitcase because she kept threatening to run away my sister was sick of me
getting the best of everything the bathrobe with the pink stripes instead of
the red the soft middle piece of bread while she got the crust I was sick with
asthma and she thought this made me a favorite

I wanted to be like the girl in the made-for-tv movie Maybe I’ll Come Home
in the Spring
which was supposed to make you not want to run away but it
looked pretty fun especially all of the agony it put your parents through and
the girl was in California or someplace warm with a boyfriend and they
always found good food in the dumpsters at least they could eat pizza and
candy and not meat loaf the runaway actress was Sally Field or at least
someone who looked like Sally Field as a teenager the Flying Nun propelled
by the huge wings on the sides of her wimple Arnold the Pig getting drafted
in Green Acres my understanding then of Vietnam I read Go Ask Alice and
The Peter Pan Bag books that were designed to keep a young girl home but
there were the sex scenes and if anything this made me want to cut my hair
with scissors in front of the mirror while I was high on marijuana but I
couldn’t inhale because of my lungs my sister was the one to pass out
behind the church for both of us rum and angel dust

and that’s how it was my sister standing at the top of all those stairs that
lead up to the apartment and she pushed down the empty suitcase that
banged the banister and wall as it tumbled and I was crying on the other side
of the door because I was sure it was my sister who fell all ketchup blood and
stuck out bones my mother wouldn’t let me open the door to let my sister
back in I don’t know if she knew it was just the suitcase or not she was cold
rubbing her sleeves a mug of coffee in her hand and I had to decide she said I had to decide right then

March 29, 2007

Unconscious models

Filed under: crying & flying — alecsothblog @ 12:39 am

In an interview with ArtNet, David LaChapelle discusses his recent pictures (previously mentioned on this blog here):

I’d been working so long with models who were quite conscious of the camera, and I wanted to find a way to make people unconscious of the camera (without feeding them “roofies” or knocking them out). I wanted to figure out a way to keep my subjects from posing. So I got this large tank and filled it with warm water…The people in the tank are basically forced to relax, all they can see is a big blur. And they’re not professional models — I got people off Craigslist or went up to people at Trader Joe’s and said, “Would you like to be in a dunk chamber?

Speaking of unconscious models, State of the Art recently discussed two different photo controversies: the murdered models on “America’s Top Models” and the Dolce & Gabbana rape fantasy ad.

“Sexy and offensive are two concepts very far from each other,” says Stefano Gabbana in an interview with Newsweek, “Sexy can become vulgar according to how the item is worn and interpreted.”

LaChapelle has a slightly different opinion. “I think we’re in a post-pornographic time and nothing seems shocking, but everything remains carnal no matter what you do.”

March 25, 2007

Crying & Flying

Filed under: crying & flying — alecsothblog @ 9:04 pm

March 23, 2007

Two Thumbs Undecided

Filed under: crying & flying,on blogging — alecsothblog @ 1:39 am

In an excellent recent post, Jen Bekman said something I’ve been meaning to say: “Just because I’m writing about something doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m recommending it.”

I just returned home from a trip to California. While I was gone I only managed to put together two meager posts. The first was twenty-six words pointing readers to Chad Muthard’s Photo Final Four. The second was seven words comparing the work of David LaChapelle and Jill Greenberg.

Both of these posts generated a good deal of feedback. Since I’ve highlighted these subjects many readers think I’m recommending them. I’m not. “If I don’t specifically say I like it, or don’t,” writes Jen, “it means that I haven’t decided. (And I might never even give it enough thought to form an opinion.)”

I can see how this might be frustrating for readers. But Jen is right – opinions take time. I’m not interested in splattering my gut reaction. Sometimes I need to send up the test balloon and give it time to figure things out.

So after a little reflection, here is what I think:

1) I agree with Isaac that Chad’s Final Four game is the equivalent of sports talk radio. When I previously mentioned that I’m a fan of sports talk (even though I don’t watch sports) I wrote that “it is a joy to listen to the nerds and statisticians sink their teeth into something entirely meaningless.”

2) “Should Alec, Ulrich, and Christian Patterson really be on that list?” asks Avedont. No. But this isn’t a real tournament. It is a silly blog game. I suspect the fact that we are all bloggers had more than a little to do with our inclusion.

3) The reason I posted on LaChapelle & Greenberg was purely visual. While browsing through the current issue of Art and Auction, I saw the image of Gwen Stefani by Greenberg and the ad for LaChapelle’s show at Shafrazi. The first thing that struck me was the similar use of rear lighting and image vignetting. But as I thought about the two photographers, I became aware of other similarities. LaChapelle and Greenberg both started in the commercial arena but now exhibit regularly in galleries. Both like slick images. Both like to shock.

So what do I think of these artists? My feelings are mixed. Except for his remarkable film RIZE, a little LaChapelle goes a long way. But he has his place. That place is normally in magazines and I’m skeptical about seeing his tableaux work on the wall, but the floating figures look good. They remind me a bit of Gary Schneider’s nudes and a number of the jumping photographers: (Kerry Skarbakka, Li Wei, etc). As for Greenberg, the aura around the pictures (the lollipops, the Bush critique) is incredibly shallow. But the pictures themselves pack a punch.

4) The most valuable thing about LaChapelle, Greenberg and the Final Four is that it got me thinking about what kind of commercial photography stands the test of time. The first photographer I thought about was Philippe Halsman. Halsman produced tableaux pictures like LaChapelle:

Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman

His great Jumpology work also reminds me of LaChapelle’s floating figures:

Mrs. Edsel Ford by Philippe Halsman

Finally, Halsman hysterical pictures of the French actor Fernandel are reminiscent of Greenberg:


Halsman stands the test of time. His work is light and humorous but somehow always marked by greatness. Only time will tell if LaChapelle and Greenberg (or Alec, Ulrich, and Patterson) will join him in the Big Dance. Whatever the case, Halsman provides a great example of a commercial photographer who holds up.

One who doesn’t hold up, but also bears resemblance to LaChapelle and Greenberg, is Howard Schatz. Compare LaChapelle’s floating pictures and Schatz’s water dancers:


Or Greenberg’s children and Schatz’s actors:



What makes Halsman great and Schatz empty? I might need some time to figure that out.

March 19, 2007

LaChapelle & Greenberg

Filed under: crying & flying,editorial photo — alecsothblog @ 1:36 am

LaChapelle & Greenberg / Commercial & Fine Art

photographs by David LaChapelle

photographs by Jill Greenberg

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