My favorite photobook of 2014

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I’m a fan, and defender, of year-end lists. While these lists are subjective and at the mercy of fashion and favor-currying, they generally succeed in bringing deserved attention to quality work. They are also a lot of fun to write. Having put together lists of favorite photobooks in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 – I’ve found the process has helped me clarify my thinking about the medium.

Nevertheless, this year I decided I wouldn’t be making a list. My head is not in the game. I didn’t attend the New York Art Book Fair or Paris Photo and LBM is currently on hiatus from publishing while we explore other avenues (news coming soon). I’m still plenty excited about the possibilities of the photobook, but in truth most of my attention has been focused on the production of my upcoming book published by MACK.

So I’ve simply sat back and enjoyed the lists as they’ve poured in. As in the past, Photolia has put assembled a comprehensive list and QT Luong has put together a statistical meta-list. I was happy to see Max Pinckers book, Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty,  in 2nd place. I’d actually chosen the book months ago as my favorite for Time Magazine. But since then another book has landed on my doorstep and taken my breath away.

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DIE MAUER IST WEG! by Mark Power is my favorite book of 2014. The book has an incredible story, brilliant design, excellent printing and killer pictures. I confess that I’m not objective. Mark is a good friend. But I didn’t know about the publication of this book and was flabbergasted by it in every way.

DIE MAUER IST WEG! is the product of an incredibly lucky timing. On November 9th of 1989, Power made a trip to Berlin to give one last go at being a photographer before giving up to become a carpenter. After arriving in Berlin, he soon learned that the Berlin Wall would be open for free passage for the first time that very same day. The world was changed. So too was Power’s career.

DIE MAUER IST WEG! was published on November 9th 2014, twenty-five years to the day after its making. While this is a wonderful celebration of Power’s good timing, it is unfortunate timing when it comes to year-end lists. I’m certain very few reviewers had the opportunity to see this book. While I have no doubt the book will sell out (it is self-published in an edition of 1000), I hope it gets the critical celebration it deserves.


The best photo MFA program


The year-end lists of photobooks have started to come out and I was thrilled to see that Martin Parr chose Felipe Russo’s book, Centro. Felipe is yet another success story from the amazing Hartford Art School International Limited-Residency Photography MFA Program. Since its inception in 2010, I’ve participated in this program and have been astonished by the success of the students. This success is largely due to the vision of the program’s director, Robert Lyons. By hosting intensive sessions in New York City, San Francisco, Berlin as well as Hartford, Robert has helped give the students a global perspective. Additionally Robert and his team have continually emphasized the importance of the photobook. Upon graduation, each student produces a finished book dummy along with an exhibition. From this have come highly acclaimed published books by J. Carrier (MACK), Bryan Schutmaat (Silas Finch) and others.

Over the years I’ve visited dozens of MFA programs and have yet to find one that rivals Hartford in the quality of its graduates. I’m grateful to be associated with the program and am eager to see who comes on board in the future.

To apply for the program (due January 15), go here:

LBM Holiday Sale

SALE From now until Dec. 1 we’re selling Such Appetite for only $9.

Peeking into the combustible sublime of America’s outer-urban colonies, Such Appetite pairs Charlie White’s intimate study of a teenage girl with poems by Stephanie Ford in a twenty-first century meditation on beauty and banality, adolescence and sprawl. More info HERE.


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In the week since it’s been released, we’ve sold nearly half of the copies of Georgia. This is the 7th and final in the Dispatch series and all other issues are sold out. More info HERE.

Shipping now: $18

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BLACK-CYBER SPECIAL! After over a year of delays, we finally managed to get some copies of this scarce project made in Japan in 2013. Each copy of The Frank Album comes with an original print by Alec Soth and is significantly more rare than Nazraeli’s 
One Picture Book. Copies purchased from now through December 1st will be signed by Soth.

“A portrait photographer depends upon another person to complete his picture. The subject imagined, which in a sense is me, must be discovered in someone else willing to take part in a fiction he cannot possibly know about.” 
– Richard Avedon

Who is Frank? Create your own album of this beguiling westerner traveling in Japan. Each copy of the The Frank Album contains a unique selection of 19 anonymous photographs and 12 texts. In the process of assembling this book, the viewer is asked to question how we piece together our understanding of strangers.

Each copy of The Frank Album includes a separate work by Alec Soth including a unique c-print entitled Frank Is Not My Father.


The final Dispatch


It has been an incredible journey for our little homegrown newspaper, but the 7th edition of the LBM Dispatch, Georgia, will be our last. From upstate New York to Silicon Valley, we crisscrossed the country collecting a compendium of American faces, voices, and places. “The Dispatch reported the news the way a paper would if Sherwood Anderson were the owner, Raymond Carver the copy chief and Emily Dickinson the sports editor,” wrote the New York Times, ” a vision of 21st-century life deeply strange and strangely deep.”

No place in our journeys showed greater depth than Georgia. Over two sweltering, bug-swarming weeks in July, the LBM Dispatch covered 2,400 miles in Georgia, exploring the State’s diverse landscapes, histories, and narratives that were alternately harrowing and inspiring. From the Civil War to the last beleaguered Gullah Geechee community on Sapelo Island, the result is a sort of see-sawing time-lapse portrait of a region that continues to straddle the past and the present, and that seems to exist in a state of conflicted nostalgia and perpetual reconstruction.


Shipping now: $18 (please note that all other editions have sold out and we don’t expect Georgia to last long). More info HERE

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Surfing in Istanbul

Fishing, like photography, is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy. – Stephen Shore

If you’re having a bad day, catch a wave. – Frosty Hesson

I’m currently in Istanbul on non-picture-taking business. As often happens when I travel, I’ve been questioning my role as a photographer. Years ago I used to pack a big film camera when I traveled somewhere new. Nowadays I rarely bring anything but an iPhone. But when I’m in Turkey rather than Tampa, something kicks in and I start feeling guilty.

The first thing I saw when I walked out of my hotel in Istanbul was the Galata Bridge at sunset. The scene was as corny as a postcard, but I snapped an iPhone picture anyway. This image is a meaningless document of the place. It is also a pretty useless document of my experience. But like every tourist, the activity scratches some sort of itch.


It occurs to me that making snapshots isn’t that different in spirit from the fishing being done on Galata Bridge. Dozens of fishermen are lined up shoulder to shoulder. Strolling by, I only saw a few small fish in a handful of buckets. It is hard to imagine that this meager bounty is the goal of their effort.


Just as I doubt a professional fly-fisherman would want to drop his line with dozens of others off a bridge, I resisted giving myself over to a platform like Instagram. But after a long period of evasion, I finally began experimenting a year ago. I found Instagram surprisingly pleasurable. It felt good to casually dip my hook in the water with everyone else.

But old habits die hard, and I probably take my Instagram account too seriously.  While few people ever look at a post after 24 hours, I’m still aware that these picture-minnows are floating around out there.

This is why I was curious to try the ephemeral platform of Snapchat – a concept entirely antithetical to art photography. Whereas an artist tries to preserve a moment for the future, a Snapchat disappears immediately after being viewed.

After a few weeks of goofing around with Snapchat, I’ve come to find that the fishing analogy doesn’t quite fit. Without the element of preservation, the process is closer to surfing. Some days might provide a better string of pictures, but in the end there is nothing to show for it but the memory of the journey.

Pathways Fundraiser with Alec Soth, Lucia Watson, Nancy Carlson, J.D. Steele and others.

Anyone who has been touched by illness knows the importance of healing their spirit as much as their physical body. For 25 years, Pathways has been committed to nurturing that kind of holistic healing. My family is among the countless others that have benefited from their good work. – Alec Soth



Tell Your Story! 
Alec Soth, Photographer

Will shoot a photo representative of your life story

Lucia Watson, Restaurateur
Will spend a day with you in her kitchen at Lucia’s Restaurant, followed by a dinner that evening with guests.

Nancy Carlson, Children’s Author
With you, will write and illustrate a children’s book.

J.D. Steele, Singer/Songwriter
Will write, perform and record a song about you or a loved one.
Full Auction Catalog HERE


Pathways would like to invite you to join us on October 14th, 2014 at the beautiful American Swedish Institute to help us celebrate 25 years of providing complementary care to people in health crises. This will be a unique fundraising event, featuring nationally and locally recognized artists, who will use their art forms to help winning bidders tell their own stories.  This event will include an amazing silent and live auction, delicious dinner and drinks, and a heartfelt program emceed by MPR and Mill City Clinic’s Dr. Jon Hallberg.

For 25 years, Pathways has helped its participants to discover and create their own healing stories. You will have the chance to bid on several experiences, through which you can tell and create your own amazing life stories!

CLICK HERE to purchase your individual ticket(s) or your table for eight!  Please call the Pathways office at (612)-822-9061 if you need to register over the phone or if you have any questions.  We hope you are able to join us for this special evening!

More info at

A new edition of House of Coates

House-of-Coates2We are excited to announce the trade paperback edition of House of Coates by Coffee House.


Monday, October 6th, 7pm. at FindFurnish, 13 5th St NE, Minneapolis: Book release party with Brad Zellar on portable turntable and Alec Soth on overhead projector.

Saturday, October 25th, 3pm at the Walker Art Center: A conversation/signing with Zellar and Soth.


“[An] interesting, well-executed book. Ultimately, it’s less a narrative about Lester than it is a prose poem about loners and losers, the many Lesters who “never entirely disappear as adults, even if you still persist in not seeing them.”Publishers Weekly

“[A] poetic attempt not to fully form a life but only to capture moments of memory and objects of counterintuitive beauty. . . The prose is crisp and thoughtful and well-matched to the photos that show the side of America to which even most Americans never give a second thought..Snapshots taken by one of the world’s beautiful losers.” Kirkus

“A kind of case study of human drift.” Star Tribune

“This collaboration between writer Brad Zellar and photographer Alec Soth…captures in 133 pages the essence of those who live on the edges of society.” Pioneer Press

“One of the great American moves is vagrancy, the freedom to drift, the right to look at things from outside the mainstream. The prose in House of Coates hums with this irreducible freedom. The photographs are both perfectly artless and undeniably visionary. Any question of fiction, non-fiction, subterfuge, or narrative trickery is superfluous in a book like this one, so appealingly strange, so delicately balanced, and so incontestably bound to its time and place.”Teju Cole, author of Open City

On Wim Wenders and The Open Road


This Sunday, September 21st, I’ll be doing a panel discussion at 11:30am with Justine Kurland and Denise Wolff at Expo Chicago about the new Aperture book, The Open Road (More info HERE). In preparation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the influence of Wim Wenders.

Just today I stumbled across an incredible lecture by Wenders entitled Impossible Stories. Wenders makes an analogy between driving and telling a story:

Film-stories are like routes. A map is the most exciting thing in the world for me; when I see a map, I immediately feel restless, especially when it’s of a country or city where I’ve never been. I look at all the names and I want to know the things they refer to, the cities of a country, the streets of a city. When I look at a map, it turns into an allegory for the whole of life. The only thing that makes it bearable is to try to mark out a route, and follow it through the city or country. Stories do just that: they become your roads in a strange land, where but for them, you might go to thousands of places without ever arriving anywhere.

Later he describes a type of open-ending storytelling which is as good of description as any of my process for making Sleeping By The Mississippi:

I followed the method of ‘day-dreaming’. Story always assumes control, it knows its course, it knows what matters, it knows where it begins and ends. Daydream is quite different; it doesn’t have that ‘dramaturgical’ control. What it has is a kind of subconscious guide who wants to get on, no matter where; every dream is going somewhere, but who can say where that is? Something in the subconscious knows, but you can only discover it if you let it take its course, and that’s what I attempted in all these films. The English word ‘drifting’ expresses it very well. Not the shortest line between two points, but a zigzag. Perhaps a better word would be ‘meander’, because that has the idea of distance in it as well.


It is interesting to think how Wenders love of the open road continues to inspire me. In the current issue of Aperture Magazine, I wrote about my favorite Wenders film: Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road):

Since I first rented the double-cassette VHS as a teenager, Wender’s depiction of two lonely men on the road together has felt like some sort of prophecy. So when I started traveling extensively with the writer Brad Zellar a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t believe my shock when he told me that Kings of the Road was one of his favorite movies.

I discovered this film when I was around 21. Twenty-three years later, I’m not only still inspired by Wenders, I feel like I’ve turned into a character in his movie.


Curriculum: A List of Favorite Anythings


pCurriculum: A List of Favorite Anythings by Alec Soth (in the current issue of Aperture Magazine)

(1) Personism Frank O’Hara
Whenever I’m asked to make a list, I have the desire to formulate some sort of manifesto. I like rules and guidelines like Dogma 95 (the film must be in color, the shooting must be done on location, etc). But then I re-read Frank O’Hara’s ‘Personism’ and remember that his whimsical, rule-free manifesto is probably the most I’d ever be able to adhere to. “Personism has nothing to do with philosophy, it’s all art,” writes O’Hara, “to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itself to one person (other than the poet himself), thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity.”

(2) The Photo Album
Picasso famously said that it took him four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. In a similar way, the struggle of many professional photographers is to make images with the purity of heart of the family snapshot. As someone whose primary ambition is the making of photobooks, I’ve found the ultimate guide in the vernacular album. After years of collecting these albums, it was great to see this art form acknowledged in the recent Aperture book:  Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography.

(3) The Solitude of Ravens by Masahisa Fukase
When asked to name my favorite photography book, I always answer Solitude of Ravens by Masahisa Fukase. Made after his divorce, it describes the feeling of a broken heart as lyrically as a Roy Orbison song.

(4) News From Home (Chantal Ackerman)
In an era when just about every still photographer is experimenting with video on their DSLR, it is eye opening to revisit Chantal Ackerman’s 1976 film of barely moving images. Every frame is perfect. But it is the voice-over letters that Ackerman reads to her mother back home in Belgium that give this film its haunting beauty.

(5) Pangnirtung by Robert Frank (Steidl)
Though I’ve never met Robert Frank, I feel like I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with him for the last twenty years. In many of our conversations I question his later work. But with his modest 2011 book about a five-day visit to a remote, Inuit village, I stop questioning and simply enjoyed being in the company of a master.

(6) I Photograph to Remember by Pedro Meyer
I own an original, 1991 CD-ROM of Pedro Meyer’s multi-media piece, I photograph to remember, but it no longer opens on my computer. Fortunately Meyer eventually put the essay online, though that presentation is dated too. What isn’t dated is the heart of Meyer’s tribute to his parents. The love, humor and vulnerability of Meyer’s intimate family slideshow has stood the test of time.

(7) Ten New Songs by Leonard Cohen
A number of years ago in a frigidly contemporary German hotel room I discovered Cohen’s CD in a drawer. As always with Cohen, the lyrics are the biggest draw. Nobody is able to speak to the full spectrum of yearning – from physical to spiritual – like Cohen. But what I love most about this album is that Cohen isn’t singing alone. In almost every song the vocalist Sharon Robinson accompanies him. Since that first night in Germany, the blend of their voices has served as a tonic to my loneliness in a hundred hotel rooms.

(8) What was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney
There is so much meat on the bones of this 2000 book about the underappreciated photographer William Gedney. There are Gedney’s wonderful photographs, of course. But these fragmentary glimpses of grace are made all the more meaningful by reading about Gedney’s process in transcriptions from his notebooks and in two unusually illuminating essays by Geoff Dyer and Maria Friedlander. Every unsung photographer grappling with the medium would do well to own this book.

(9) Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road) by Wim Wenders
Since I first rented the double-cassette VHS as a teenager, Wender’s depiction of two lonely men on the road together has felt like some sort of prophecy. So when I started traveling extensively with the writer Brad Zellar a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t believe my shock when he told me that Kings of the Road was one of his favorite movies.

(10) Pictures from Home by Larry Sultan
One of the hardest things to do with photographs is accompany them meaningfully with words – particularly with the words of the photographer. Pictures From Home achieves this goal better than any other book I’ve seen. But I only allow myself to read the book every few years because (1) it is so heartbreaking (2) it is so good that it makes all of my work seem trivial.

Mushroom ♥ Cheese


I’ve been describing 2014 as the LBM Year of Wisconsin. Along with participating in a group show at Milwaukee Museum of Art and teaching a course at UWM, I’m so excited to exhibit my survey show, From Here To There: Alec Soth’s America, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art from September 14, 2014 to January 4, 2015. Here’s some of the programming done in conjunction with the show:

Saturday, September 13 ·  6–9 pm
MMoCA Night: Alec Soth Opening Reception
Celebrate the opening of From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America with this special MMoCA Nights. Preview the exhibition beginning at 6 pm. MMoCA director Stephen Fleischman will converse with Soth at 6:30 pm in the lecture hall. Afterward, guests will be invited to ask the artist questions about his work and process. Louka will perform live, and hors d’oeuvres from Fresco will round out the evening. Free for MMoCA members / $10 for non-members. more »

Saturday, September 13 ·  6:30–7:30 pm
A Conversation with Alec Soth
In conversation with MMoCA director Stephen Fleischman, photographer Alec Soth will discuss his creative process, including his approach to photographing his subjects on location using a large-format 8 x 10 camera.

Alec Soth’s photographs have been featured in one-person exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume, Paris, and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, among others. In addition to exhibiting his work, Soth publishes books of his photographic series, including Sleeping by the Mississippi, NIAGARA, The Last Days of W, and Broken Manual through his publishing company Little Brown Mushroom. He is a member of Magnum Photos and has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013. Lecture Hall.

Friday, September 26 ·  7–8 pm
Somewhere to Disappear
Somewhere to Disappear is a film that chronicles photographer Alec Soth as he traveled nearly 20,000 miles across the United States for his project, Broken Manual. Developed over a period of several years, Broken Manual features images of individuals who have chosen to establish a life alone and live “off the grid.” 2010, France. 57 minutes. Tickets are available at the door 30 minutes before screen time.

Somewhere to Disappear is co-sponsored by MMoCA and PhotoMidwest. Visit for more information or to purchase tickets for this and other programs organized for PhotoMidwest, including the September 27 screening at MMoCA of In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter. 

Friday, October 10 ·  6:30– 7 pm
A Little Brown Mushroom Odyssey
Writer and frequent Alec Soth collaborator Brad Zellar talks about the experience of working and traveling with Soth. Soth and Zellar have worked together on such book projects as Conductors of the Moving World, House of Coates, and the seven-part LBM Dispatch, which documents the duo’s travels around the United States.

Along with Alec Soth, Brad Zellar is the Fall 2014 Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence at the UW-Madison Arts Institute, where they are co-teaching the course “Truth, Lies, Memory, and Imagination: The Photograph as Story.” Zellar is an author and journalist whose book, Suburban World: The Norling Photos, served in part as inspiration for the Coen brothers’ film, A Serious Man. Among other awards he has received, his book, Conductors of the Moving World, was featured in TIMELightbox “Best of 2011: The Photobooks We Loved.” Zellar also writes for his blog, Your Man for Fun in Rapidan., found at Main galleries.

More info HERE

An article on the show HERE