Alec Soth's Archived Blog

September 15, 2006

Thomas Hoepker’s opinion

Filed under: Magnum,media — alecsothblog @ 8:19 am

Hoepker writes in Slate today:

“Was this the callousness of a generation, which had seen too much CNN and too many horror movies? Or was it just the devious lie of a snapshot, which ignored the seconds before and after I had clicked the shutter?”

Read the full piece here

September 13, 2006

1/500th of a second

Filed under: Magnum,media — alecsothblog @ 1:40 pm

© Thomas Hoepker

Richard Woodward pointed me to the brewing controversy surrounding this 9/11 picture by Thomas Hoepker of Magnum. The controversy was triggered by this Frank Rich editorial. I emailed Thomas to get his opinion. He said he is giving it time (wise) and will probably write something for Slate.

For me this just reveals, once again, the biggest problem with photography. Photographs aren’t good at telling stories. Stories require a beginning, middle and end. They require the progression of time. Photographs stop time. They are frozen. Mute. As viewers of the picture, we have no idea what those people on the waterfront are talking about.

So what are photographs good at? While they can’t tell stories, they are brilliant at suggesting stories. Photographs are successful in advertising because they help suggest that if we buy X we will have the perfect lifestyle. And photographs are successful as propaganda because they can function as proof for whatever agenda someone wants to suggest.

I have no idea what is going on in that picture. And I’m pretty suspicious of anyone using it as proof of anything. You can’t tell provide context in 1/500th of a second.

September 7, 2006

Q: Why Magnum? A: Christopher Anderson

Filed under: artists,Magnum — alecsothblog @ 11:43 am

I’m often asked why, as a fine-art photographer, I would want to be part of Magnum Photos. In my application letter to associate membership of Magnum, I tried to answer this question by writing:

“I don’t trust art world success. If you look at a twenty-year-old catalogue of the Whitney Biennial, you don’t recognize many names. Moreover, much of the work looks empty, dated and self-indulgent. The truth is that I’m prone to self-indulgence. I could easily see myself holing up in Nova Scotia scribbling hermetic diary notes on old pictures and thinking it is great art. This is the reason I applied to Magnum.”

What unites Magnum photographers is that they go out into the world to make pictures. In twenty years, much fine art photography will be as relevant as this. I suppose a lot of people no longer think Magnum is relevant either. But I disagree. While there aren’t many magazine venues for this kind of photography, the work itself is still important. There are a bunch of younger photographers at Magnum making fantastic pictures. And much of this work will stand the test of time. For example, take a look at Christopher Anderson. His pictures aren’t just important – they’re good. Not only does he do terrific work in hotspots all over the world – he is really good at photographing Republicans:

© Christopher Anderson
© Christopher Anderson
© Christopher Anderson

Along with great young photographers, there are also young people in the Magnum offices creating new venues like Magnum in Motion. Have a look a Christopher’s outstanding interactive essay on Lebanon.

The artworld can seem pretty shallow sometimes. I have admiration for working photographers. Photojournalists get a lot of criticism, but they really are brave and sometimes even heroic. Look at this picture of Christopher Anderson carrying an elderly woman through the rubble of Aitaroun, Lebanon (A related article can be read at PDN online):

That said, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m not a photojournalist. The art world is my terrain. I haven’t carried anybody trough rubble lately. I’m just happy to rub elbows with these folks from time to time.

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