Photographer Alec Soth shares the story of how “awkward silence” helped him capture an incredible portrait.
“I am a shy child Anyone who knows me since childhood certainly does not believe this is my current job,” laughs photographer Alec Soth.
He said he started photographing after college, “it functions almost as a therapy, which is practically shameful, but it’s a way to learn to deal with other people and deal with these fears.”
Dislikes paid off. For five years, Soth often traveled overland along the Mississippi River – which crosses his hometown of Minnesota – and photographed a series of landscapes and portraits that are often compared to Robert Frank’s The Americans released in 1958.
After the Sleeping by the Mississippi series appeared in self-published books, Soth was incorporated into the Whitney Biennial in 2004 and was offered a task that caused him to join Magnum Photos.
His Mississippi image was filled with dreamers. One of them, entitled Charles, is simultaneously very simple and mysterious: Why the plane? Why is he standing on the roof? A unique moment that is immortalized because of the embarrassment Soth has. Fans of “let awkward silence happen”. he widened the silence through his choice of cameras.
Soth says one of the reasons why he likes to work with large-format cameras and tripods is that he can observe his subject when he installs the camera. This gives them “the time to adjust – but there is also the awkwardness.” I noticed that when we take pictures, we sort of race to finish it, because this can be an unpleasant thing: but if we are in awkwardness for long periods of time , that’s when magic can emerge. ”
Soth limited it to a recent project. “Four years ago in Japan, I did this experiment and I made this portrait in a five minute exposure.I just sat with the man, my head was not behind the camera, I just sat down – and that’s the main reason just to just look at people To really be in that uncomfortable place It was a wonderful experience. ”
Soth feels privileged to have permission to do this. “Basically, that’s what portraits might be for you to do,” he said.
“It allows viewers to have that experience, stand close to someone and look at it carefully, and just to stare – it’s a pleasure.”
Between 2006 and 2010, Soth gained access to hard-to-reach groups. The Broken Manual project explores those who choose to hide from the real world: ascetics, wild men, monks and survivors.
His photographs are often frightening: one of the empty hanger hanging from a pole attached to two sides of a cave, the other showing some sharp streaks printed on the wall: ‘I love my dad Tony. I hope he loves me. ‘
“It’s really about the need to connect with a mask that wants to run away,” Soth said. Sometimes, even in pictures of humans, the photographs are like portraits taken without humans. “The work was really about the failure to be alone, the people I photographed allowed me to photograph them because they did not want to be alone,” Soth told Interview magazine. “No one really wants to be alone, Manuia needs humans.”
The 2006 collection, Niagara, shows the newlyweds at Niagara Falls’s honeymoon destination – Soth notes that it is also where people commit suicide. Pictures of smiling couples and rose-colored waterfalls mixed with a letter that read: “If there is a nice apartment and I have a decent job …. Would you go home?”
Soth describes the subject’s search process as ‘planned coincidence’. “A great analogy for me for photography is fishing.You start studying the bait, the positions on the lake, the time difference in the day – the knowledge of these ups and downs.”
Go in an instant
Soth took some photos for Sleeping by the Mississippi at a brothel in Iowa. One of them, a pair of women sitting side by side, their legs overlap. They are prostitutes, they are also mothers and children. For his project, Soth asked his subjects to write down their life’s dreams. The princess dreamed of being a nurse, Soth told The Telegraph. “And the mother says she has no dreams, she’s out of their reach.”
He worries about documentary photography ethics, “I think it’s a problem when I ask for permission – more problematic when I do not ask permission”. But he also saw that a picture can often vote to a person who can not speak. “The average person says amazing things, being able to frame them in a certain way, and then paying attention to them, can highlight that meaning.One of the great things about photography is that he is very concerned about things that are very boring and affirming them, and I am happy to be a part of the activity. ”
It all came back to an awkward silence. Soth believes we can see more if we cope. “I rediscovered this quote by John Cage who said if there’s something boring in two minutes, listen to it in four minutes, if it’s still boring in four minutes, listen to it again in eight minutes – it’s not boring anymore. “