April 26th, 2013

Alec Soth on Wandering, Storytelling and Robert Adams vs. Weegee

Last week at the Portland Art Museum as part of the 2013 Photolucida festivities, Alec Soth gave a lecture titled “From Here to There: Searching for Narrative in Photography.” The talk could have been titled “Searching for Narrative in Photography Lectures,” because Soth mostly allowed the audience to lead the way with questions, which he responded to with the aid of a number of prepared slideshows. The evening was free-form, entertaining and a bit wandering, which made sense given that Soth emphasized that wandering and taking pictures without a set goal in mind has produced some of his most important bodies of work. But more on that later.

Soth started on a down note, sharing a quote from Robert Frank—“There are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art any more. Maybe it never was.” He also showed a photograph of an installation by Erik Kessels: a pile of prints made from all of the images uploaded to Flickr in a 24-hour period.

Soth described the perspectives offered by the Frank quote and Kessels’ installation as “bleak.” But, he said, the “way out of this [bleak situation for photographers] is storytelling.” (more…)