It’s been a year and half since I made a blog post. Long story. Anyway, I’m excited about this event. If you are in San Francisco, please stop by.
Thursday, July 21st
The Lot Radio, 17 Nassau Ave.
As the Winnebago Workshop prepares for our upcoming cross-country trip to New York, we’re excited to announce the launch of our new website: www.winnebagoworkshop.com
The Winnebago Workshop is an art school on wheels. With your help, it can keep traveling. More students can be given free access to life-changing experiences. More teachers on the road. More art. Find out more about the Winnebago Workshop and how you can support the development of young artists HERE.
We have great rewards for backers including a new book by Alec Soth that will only be available on Kickstarter.
Two weeks ago I posted these two pictures on Instagram without any other explanation than the hashtag #InstagramLikeTest. What was going on?
Mick Brown, a writer for the Telegraph Magazine, was in the Twin Cites to profile me in advance of my show at Media Space in London. During our time together, he suggested we both make a picture of the same subject with our smartphones. Mick believed my picture would contain some sort of ‘magic’ that would be missing from his. I’ve worked with Mick in the past and admire him enormously, but I thought his hypothesis was harebrained.
Nevertheless, I nervously took him up on his offer and agreed to post both of our pictures on Instagram as a kind of blind survey. But of course it wasn’t blind. I knew that by posting my picture first it would garner more likes. While this issue might seem minor, I think it is quite significant. It speaks to one of the most prominent factors in photography – the context in which we see an image significantly affects the way we respond to it. Seeing Mick’s image second affected the reading of the image, just like seeing a picture in a subway is different than seeing it in a gallery (see my follow-up post in which the Photoshopped gallery image gained the most likes of all):
This isn’t to deny that there were other things at play specific to the images. But this has more to do with technology than any ability of mine to capture magic. In fact, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to make a deep (or deep looking) picture with the iPhone, I had the subject close her eyes. I knew that would help formalize the picture. Secondly, knowing that the wide angle lens of the iPhone distorts the face, I knew that being a bit further away would also aestheticize the image.
In short, I cheated because I’m a professional photographer and I didn’t want to lose to a writer. That said, I think there’s an interesting footnote that might might be instructive. After talking to the woman I photographed, Sara, I found out she was on her way to a job interview at the Dollar Store. This knowledge made her dress and general appearance particularly poignant. Had I been making a serious portrait of her, I would have followed her to the store and photographed her before and after the interview. While I don’t think I have the ability to create magic, I do think I’ve developed a nose for a visual story, or at least the annoying persistence to root one out of an ordinary situation. In the end, perhaps that is the real soul of photography.
Read Mick’s article this Saturday in the Telegraph Magazine.
Big changes are underway here at Little Brown Mushroom. We are taking a hiatus from publishing to focus on our new experimental educational endeavor: The Winnebago Workshop – a mobile classroom that puts artists with teens to create multimedia stories.
This August we’re going to have our first week-long workshop. Each day we will meet at the St. Paul studios of Alec Soth and Little Brown Mushroom. After a morning brainstorming session, we’ll board our RV and explore. Through photographs, video, drawing and writing, participants will collect visual stories. Throughout the course of the week, we’ll have public projections of the stories on the side of the RV.
Who: Teen artists (age 16-18)
When: August 17-22, 2015. 9am – evening
Where: We’ll meet each day in the Midway area of St. Paul and then drive wherever the wind blows us.
Due by August 3rd at 5pm
In a recent article about Songbook in The Daily Beast, the influence of my high school teacher was discussed:
It was also growing up in Minnesota when he [Soth] first began learning about photography from his teacher, Bill Hardy, who he still keeps in touch with to this day and works with on educational projects. “He’s a remarkable guy, and he would really encourage us to get out of the classroom and take walks and explore. I remember his first lesson was without a camera. He would just have us walk with cardboard mats with windows cut-out and we’d look through them,” he recalls. “It was a good lesson, but I didn’t take to it originally.”
While I might not have fallen in love with photography at first, I did fall in love with making art (that is one of my paintings in the background):
I’m absolutely certain I wouldn’t be a photographer were it not for Mr. Hardy’s attention and encouragement. I owe him so much. So when Mr. Hardy invited me to spend this week with his colleague Walker Zeiser and their students in upstate New York, I didn’t hesitate. For the last twenty or so years, Mr. Hardy has run a program called Sideroads at Millbrook Academy. With notebooks and cameras, students go out and explore neighboring communities. Over the past week we’ve visited the towns of Hudson, Saugerties, Beacon and Housatonic for a project we called Lurking Beyond Millbrook:
freezing outside of The Housie Market in Housatonic
I decided to use my time here to write rather than to photograph. For me this week has been, among many things, a chance to reflect on how my ways of seeing the world have changed since I was sixteen.
In Saugerties, I spent most of my time in the wonderful Inquiring Minds bookstore and cafe. I purchased Book 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s celebrated novel, My Struggle. I was taken aback when, on page 11, Knausgaard seemed to sum up the feeling I had about age and learning:
As your perspective of the world increases not only is the pain it inflicts on you less but also its meaning. Understanding the world requires you to take a certain distance from it. Things that are too small to see with the naked eye, such as molecules and atoms, we magnify. Things that are too large, such as cloud formations, river deltas, constellations, we reduce. At length we bring it within the scope of our senses and we stabilize it with fixer. When it has been fixed we call it knowledge. Throughout our childhood and teenage years, we strive to attain the correct distance to objects and phenomena. We read, we learn, we experience, we make adjustments. Then one day we reach the point where all the necessary distances have been set, all the necessary systems have been put in place. That is when time begins to pick up speed. It no longer meets any obstacles, everything is set, time races through our lives, the days pass by in a flash and before we know what is happening we are forty, fifty, sixty… Meaning requires content, content requires time, time requires resistance. Knowledge is distance, knowledge is stasis and the enemy of meaning.
What Knausgaard is getting at, in part, is that meaning is for the young and knowledge is for the old. We’re lucky when the old, with their knowledge, help guide the young toward meaning. Bill Hardy has spent the majority of his life doing just that. As time picks up speed for me, the question I’m facing is whether or not I’ll be able to do this for someone else.
The beginning of March is fine time to start day dreaming about the simple pleasures that await us around the seasonal corner. In that spirit, the Carnegie Museum of Art recently published a short essay of mine on the cover picture of Summer Nights by Robert Adams. Read it HERE.
This also caused me to revisit a video homage I made to Summer Nights a couple of years ago for the Aperture Foundation. Watch it HERE.
I’m thrilled to announce the release of my new book and exhibition Songbook debuting at Sean Kelly Gallery in NYC (Jan. 29th, 2015), Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco (Feb. 5th, 2015), Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis (Feb. 20th, 2015) and Loock Galerie in Berlin (April 30th).
Songbook is published by MACK (LBM is not selling copies). I’ll be doing my first book signing at Sean Kelly Gallery on Saturday, January 31st at 3pm.
– Alec Soth
A little over a year ago I asked the question, What Is Happening in Contemporary Colombian Photography. Through the fantastic work of Tom Griggs and his blog fototazo, I’ve since learned a lot. One of the great things Tom does with his blog is help support non-prof microgrants for Colombian photographers. Yesterday he posted a request on the behalf of nine former microgrant recipients to travel from Colombian to the University of Iowa to participate in an intensive workshop in the summer of 2015.
I believe so much in the work Tom is doing to encourage up and coming Latin American photographers and hope you’ll consider supporting this project too. More info on the microgrant HERE
Make a tax-deductible contribution HERE