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Tuesday, 28 September 2010


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In case you didn't get the Ralph Steiner reference, I'm referring to a book he once did of deliberately affirmative photography that was positive in tone and outlook.

Despite this, I must say that the Zoe Strauss book is genuinely memorable--it has stuck in my head, and I haven't seen it for months and months--and I think that when the dust settles ten or twenty years from now, her America will probably be remembered as one of the significant books of this era.


Well, if you tell a customs official you are entering their country to work, guess what happens. I'm guessing Alec Soth does not have a lot of experience with travel for work.

I would like to see more of the pictures.

I don't think the UK cares remotely nor was there a chance he would be arrested in reality but I think it's rude to the organisers.

He was entering the country with the wrong visa, can't see how an artist working a commission should be treated any differently than anyone else. At least he wasn't a journalist trying to enter the US :)


How is child labor better than flaunting visa laws?

I have owned your two most recent purchases for some time and I really do treasure them. When I first saw the picture of the love letter that's also embossed on the back of Niagara, I actually cried.

I'd not say it's an FU to the UK. It's a photographer embracing limitations. I'm sure the kid has some of her father's spirit and this is the right "medium" for spirit.

Man if they sell it'll be like a scene from Paper Moon, only it'll be "You owe me $100,000"

This kid hasn't got a famous parent and he paints better than I do. I'm no expert on art but I know what I don't like


Oh well, very strange.

I can't help thinking it would have been a better solution to find a photography student at one of Brighton's many colleges and ask him or her to do it: the experience of working with Alex Soth, the discussions around the selection of images, and least of all the exposure for the student to the Biennale would maybe be of greater longer term value, as well as leaving an impressive oddball fact on the young photographer's CV.

You should definitely buy Zoe Strauss's America. It's amazing. I can't get over the fact that she just meets random people and they're telling/showing/letting her photograph them in such intimate positions just minutes after they've met her.

Regarding Sleeping by the Mississippi, I know TOP gets a small cut if you buy it from Amazon, but you can actually get it cheaper (since it's out of print), AND signed, from Soth's Little Brown Mushroom.

At least he wasn't a journalist trying to enter the US :)


This is the kind of third-world insanity we used to make movies about. Handcuffs and verbal abuse because he screwed up a form? Is the detention facility out-sourced to a private firm, I wonder? It could explain a few things. There'd be one hell of an incentive to imprison as many as possible, complete with kickbacks to airport staff, and no worries about lawsuits from those foreigners.

Wow. Hope we all feel safer now.

As for the story about Soth, I understand that foreign workers require visas, but it's not exactly the same as a welder or IT consultant, is it? You can just imagine if Van Gogh had tried to go do some landscape work in Britain 150 years ago. No sorry, we have to protect the jobs of our British impressionists. But I'm not exactly an impressionist, he'd say, and the court hearings would last for months.

you could please cite the books more fully in the text or in the hover on your Amazon links? i read TOP in an RSS aggregator, making it inefficient (and impossible if i'm reading offline) to load Amazon.com just to know what you are referring to


So cute pink things are in, and drab monochrome reality is out. Got it!

I wonder if editing a pool of photographs someone else has taken qualifies as "work"? Clearly Mr. Soth thought so, since the article specifically mentions Mr. Parr as the one who picked through Miss Carmen's photographs.

The unspoken framing of the story is interesting. But I do wonder at the necessity of work visas for photographers since everyone is a photographer. Who can sell their vacation snaps for stock. Haven't people gotten in trouble for being "bloggers" already?

There are a lot of very sniffy responses to this. Why shouldn't a 7 year-old's pictures be any good? The implication here is that because she hasn't had a whole load of training her images are worthless. I'd like to visit the exhibition before I make up my own mind but, sadly, probably won't get the chance.

Periodically, artists or other interested parties organise projects where groups of children are given cameras and a free rein in terms of subject matter as well as a venue in which to exhibit the results. Often the work produced is a lot more interesting than that of enthusiasts or, dare I say it, some pros. I see this in much the same way - albeit here the child is working under the direct guidance of a very talented photographer.

I will be interested to hear what, if anything, Parr & Soth have to say about it this Friday at the Brighton Photo Biennial's introductory talk/discussions.

Please report back to us, will you?


I had a first look at Soth's "From Here to There" last week. Although I don't know if you can describe it as an artist's book, it looks very good indeed. The man is bristling with ideas.

Robert Roaldi: "You can just imagine if Van Gogh had tried to go do some landscape work in Britain 150 years ago."

Not quite that, but he did cross the English Channel.

Anyone who knows the places visited, or something about the artist, may need to adjust their ideas of both!

Havnt we all seen photos like that a million times already? Sticking my neck out, I think it is next to worthless. Take a look at the artistic and technical skills on show in the junior section in Wildlife Photographer of the Year (admittedly not of the Holy Grail genre of Street Photography). As for the Customs 'thing', it is part and parcel of the ongoing international paranoia and insanity that is driving us to drink more than one glass of vino collapso per day. Urrrrrrrrrrrr & Arrrrrrrgh to both parts of the story.
Kerry Glasier
Cornwall. UK

This is a typical storm in a teacup issue where the reactions are far more sensational than the facts.

I don't approve of invective, but yes at the end of the day it IS a bit of a publicity stunt BUT it also makes an interesting point. I sympathise with the Duchampian comment. Art and artistic trends are transient and often overly introspective. An occasional well aimed poke at the conceit of the establishment is always welcome. Knowing Mr Parr by reputation I don't think this point escaped him, and had it been anyone other than Mr Soth would the establishment get the point? However it would have been fun to exhibit the work anonymously.

I should say there are hundreds of opportunities for new and upcoming photographers to exhibit in the UK these days. Possibly too many. Among the best, the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize seldom fails to inspire, shock and amuse me in equal measure and this year looks like being a bumper year in the shock department.

However the worst include works that could easily have been taken by a seven year old (only without the expert direction).

But I still don't understand why photographers and artists on a paid assignment should be a special case when uniquely skilled surgeons and experts in other fields, even academia, are not. It's not hard to fill out the right form for a temporary work visa and just how important ARE artists and photographers at the end of the day?

I found Zoe Strauss's America very confronting and really daunting. You're right that it will make you depressed, but it does present a reality that can't be ignored.

And it's about the only photo book in my collection that I won't let my keen little photog (who is just about the same age as Mr Soth's) look at ...

I grew up less than 12 miles from Niagara Falls, and know both the city (especially the American side) and the State Park intimately. Niagara Falls, U.S.A. is an economically blighted rust belt burg best know for toxic waste, unemployment and political corruption. The decaying remnants of 1950s honeymoon chic are such an easy target for mockery, it's like clubbing baby seals. And Alex Soth swings away.
This is precisely what I so dislike about much of Diane Arbus's work: the queasy mix of ridicule and precision.

Hi Mike,

I didn't drill down (no time), but...I understand that there is an Alex Soth exhibit at the Walker Art Center. Here is the link: http://calendar.walkerart.org/canopy.wac?id=4673&hp=link&poster=Exhibitions. You have an open invitation.


I've currently reading his new book "Broken Manual" and so far it's another stunning print job by Steidl and an interesting addition to my Soth library. It really does look and feel like an old homemade book.

I'm off to see the talk on Friday so it'll be interesting to hear if the story is true and if they are gonna start selling more limited edition prints by 7 year olds. It's a whole new area for the collectors.

A very interesting story with so many angles. Is Carmen really the photographer or is Alec working a la Gregory Crewdson? Is he the hero subverting the bureaucracy or just an arrogant artist for whom normal rules don't apply? Is it all just a publicity stunt to get attention for the show?

"Is Carmen really the photographer or is Alec working a la Gregory Crewdson? Is he the hero subverting the bureaucracy or just an arrogant artist for whom normal rules don't apply? Is it all just a publicity stunt to get attention for the show?"

I just can't read it as anything sinister. First of all, he seems to be FOLLOWING the rules, not acting like they don't apply--they told him not to take pictures and he's not. As far as "child labor" (as another commenter said), c'mon--he seems like he's collaborating on a project with his kid, letting her do her thing and teaching her, both. I can't see that as being in any way bad for her, unless he's beating her with a belt to make her do it. And finally, while it might serve as a publicity stunt, what's the difference? Artists try stuff. They explore, they experiment. Maybe this experiment will fail; maybe it will work; I'll bet most of the people directly involved will get something out of it, even if it's not all they WANT to get out of it, and even if it's not something the public can appreciate. And after all, not all art is for the benefit of the public first and foremost. Sometimes it's just artists doing what they do.


I always thought Soth's work is pretty average (and in some part such as the dog series even insignificant)
Now he has taken it a step further by letting it become sappy.

"Not quite that, but he did cross the English Channel.

Anyone who knows the places visited, or something about the artist, may need to adjust their ideas of both!"

Oops, thanks for pointing out my mistake. I should have double-checked.


I can't imagine that there won't be more than a couple of TOP readers at an event like the Brighton Photo Biennial launch events, so I'm sure you'll get some feedback on it.

Actually, Soth isn't the only interesting speaker in that session though. Apart from Martin Parr, who curated the festival, there's also Hackney's finest, Stephen Gill ( http://www.stephengill.co.uk ) and Rinko Kawauchi.

Dog Days Bogota is also about Carmen Soth I copied this off Alec Soth´s blog:

"My wife and I adopted our baby girl, Carmen Laura, from Bogota, Colombia. While the courts processed her paperwork, we spent two months in Bogota waiting to take Carmen home.
Carmen’s birth-mother gave her a book filled with letters, pictures and poems. “I hope that the hardness of the world will not hurt your sensitivity,” she wrote, “When I think about you I hope that your life is full of beautiful things.”
With those words as a mission statement, I began making my own book for Carmen. In photographing the city of her birth, I hope I’ve described some of the beauty in this hard place.
Alec Soth"
So one way or another she´s been round photography all her life and I find it quite normal that such a creative and inspired artist like Alec Soth should experiment even if it means using his daughter it´s just another chance to be together with Carmen. Those of you who ever followed his blog may remember how he used to complain bitterly on his road trips about missing his family.

Funny you mention America by Zoe Strauss in this particular context since I find her work a very interesting conglomeration of an untrained, outsider aesthetic combined with a direct, insider worldview that make for some very appealing, and in their own unique way, very classic photographs.

Let's face it, art photography circles are as enamored with youth as any other group of aging forty-plus-ers. Add to that the genius myth and you're two clicks in front of the competition. Not so much a conscious trick on Alec Soth's part, I think. He genuinely wants to teach, see his ‘From Here To There’ Flickr Project.

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