Book Review: I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating
By Ashley Yu
Although you sit in a room that is gray/ Except for the silver/ of the straw paper...What is all this? I know how furiously your heart is beating.
Dripping in melancholic serenity, photographer Alec Soth returns from his year-long hiatus with his book I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating. Taken from the last line of Wallace Stevens’ poem the Gray Room, Soth’s book undeniably echoes the same sentiment of the eponymous poem—it is the intimacy of mutual recognition; of the vulnerability that connects one soul to the other; of seeing beyond the veneer of fleshy appearances and into the furiously beating heat of someone else. Alec Soth’s incredibly human portrayal of his subjects in his book is what characterizes his success in photography.
In a conversation with Musée Magazine, Soth withdrew from the realm of photography due to his changing comfort level with human subjects, saying it “occasionally morphed into a kind of professionalism that I found concerning.” Soth realized that he “needed to take some time away to remember that photographing other people is best when it’s a human exchange, not a job.” Soth speaks on his intention of reclaiming privacy and tenderness in the book, rejecting his complicity to the power dynamic that has “something predatory about it”; the “power dynamic...where in the end, the photographer has the power.”
There is a notable shift in tone in his recent photography after his hiatus. Though they carry the same sense of intimacy as his previous images, the subjects seem to contain a more solitary air and there Soth’s fear of encroaching upon the privacy of others feels ever-present. Turning away from the blazing eyes of a topless old man smattered with chest tattoos or a young girl lying on the chest of her lover, he turns to focus on the insignificant parts of their home. The photograph of purple paint peeling from water stains on someone’s ceiling or the view of a garden, veiled by a thin white curtain, feels like relief—relief from the burning vulnerability and honesty of Soth’s subjects.
Like in Wallace Stevens’ poem, Soth has forged intensely intimate human connections to everyone he meets just by sharing a room. Throughout this lyrical exposé, we see not only into the cozy domestic rooms that strangers call home, but we also learn to recognize the palpable humanity the thrums furiously throughout the book.