- Gina Chahal
Whether the subject matter is newlyweds, nudes, hermits or breath-taking landscapes, Minnesota-based photographer Alec Soth captures the beauty of North America in his most intriguing exhibition to date. Gathered Leaves is the first major UK exhibition for this award-winning photographer. The exhibit features four signature series from a decade of the sensational career of one of the world’s foremost photographers.
Soth has earned a reputation as a distinctive and vibrant voice in contemporary photography, through his internationally acclaimed books, Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2015). Soth’s expressive approach to documentary photography can be seen throughout his exhibitions and books. A Minnesota native, Soth explores the great American fascination with the open road and shines a light on ideas discussed in the 20th century by artists like Robert Frank and Stephen Shore, as well as writers such as Jack Kerouac.
Throughout his expansive career, Soth has depicted his rendition of Americana, with a focus on the ‘average’ American. His collections of photographs capture the spectrum of human feeling and community, through barren landscapes, profound portraits and wide open wilderness. Soth comments: ‘to me, the most beautiful thing is vulnerability,’ which can be seen throughout his work. Sleeping by the Mississippi, Soth’s first internationally acclaimed collection, features scenes from Soth’s hometown Minnesota. Throughout the Gathered Leaves collection, the work seamlessly embroiders a narrative of the U.S., with particular focus on the south. Sleeping by the Mississippi, includes pieces such as ‘Charles Lindbergh’s boyhood bed’ and ‘Peter’s Houseboat,’ which reflect the unconventional lives of many outside the heavily populated towns and cities in the U.S.
Soth’s first British retrospective includes the Niagara collection, which features wonderful landscapes and fascinating settings. Motels are a frequent motif in the collection; Soth describes them as ‘spectacular suicides and affordable honeymoons.’ The striking intimate portrait, ‘Misty’ from Niagara, encapsulates the vulnerability and rawness of human emotion. Broken Manual, another major project featured in the exhibition, includes a series of thought-provoking and unsettling photographs. The Broken Manual collection features an array of recluses and hermits, who have an almost religious presence, which reflects a desire to escape and abscond from civility.
The newest project featured in the Gathered Leaves exhibition, Songbook, chronicles Soth’s journeys across America in his search for human interaction in an age consumed by social networks and the media. Throughout the collection, Soth captures the tension between the desire for close community and individualism in today’s society. The black-and-white photograph ‘Dave and Trish’ from the Songbook project, displays the love and longing of a couple amongst the desolate setting. The joy of the dancing man in ‘Bil Sandusky, Ohio’ juxtaposes with the monochrome palette, and captures the beauty of human emotion.
Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth will run until March 28th 2016.
Admission is £8, Seniors £7 and Concessions £6 (Prices include donation).
The exhibition is open from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Sunday.
Media Space, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, UK, +44 870 870 4868
By Gina Chahal