Alec Soth: Gagosian Gallery

By Avgikos, Jan | Artforum International, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Alec Soth: Gagosian Gallery


Avgikos, Jan, Artforum International


Like many contemporary photographers who have rediscovered the value of the road trip as a route to vernacular culture, Alec Soth encounters out-of-the-way places and people and pushes past documentary investigation into lurid hyperrealism. His new series, "NIAGARA," 2005, demonstrates not only a knack for convincing strangers to reveal themselves, but also a penchant for channeling personal experience into passive-aggressive pictorial sensationalism. We might empathize with his subjects, but at the same time we can't stop staring at their naked bodies and impoverished surroundings. This spectacle, tinged as it is with cliches of misery and bliss, seems almost to parody romantic love, and the overall effect is prurient in a way that Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Stephen Shore--all photographers with whom Soth is routinely compared--never are.

Using a large-format camera that captures every detail, Soth casts his small-town subjects as players in dramas centered on love in its many guises. He also lampoons Niagara Falls, a fabled honeymoon spot, as a destination whose luster has tarnished. Soth shoots ugly motels surrounded by slabs of barren asphalt, but also presents several photographs of the falls that are, by contrast, too beautiful for words. It's possible to interpret the force of nature as a metaphor for the power of love. But the flip side of love--betrayal, sorrow, divorce--like the tawdriness of local culture, is never far from view.

In Wedding Dress (all works 2005), an immaculate gown is shown on mangled wire hangers suspended above a filthy floor. In Melissa, Flamingo Inn, a young bride sits on a motel balcony, looking stiffly self-conscious in her formal regalia. The Flecks shows a family consisting of two young breeders and their brood of girls, all dressed in identical pink outfits, accompanied by their latest addition, a boy. …

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