Alec Soth: A Room for Solace at AIPAD
By Ashley Yu
Check out AIPAD’s special exhibition “A Room for Solace: An Exhibition of Domestic Interiors”, curated by Alec Soth. With this exhibition, the reknowned photogtapher wants to take a break from the fractious public square of photograohy and wander quietly into people’s homes, speaking to the possibility of finding refuge during turbulent, unstable times. AIPAD Photography Show opens at Pier 94 in New York on April 4.
Ashley Yu: You mention Walker Evans a lot throughout your photography career. How has his work inspired and influenced your own photography?
Alec Soth: Walker Evans originally wanted to be a writer. He brought literary ambition to photography and eventually called his pursuit “lyric documentary.” This desire to combine clear-eyed depictions of the world with a poetic sensibility has been hugely influential to countless photographers since then, myself included.
Ashley: According to an art critic from the Guardian, your work focuses on the “banal images of modern America.” Do you agree with her?
Alec: My work is most often made in America, though not exclusively so. Whether or not one considers the subjects banal is in the eye of the beholder. If I considered them banal I wouldn’t give them my attention.
Ashley: Your photographs always seem to possess an intimacy and vulnerability from your subjects. How do you go about building trust when photographing strangers?
Alec: When I photograph people, I try to be honest about who I am and what I’m doing. Just as I’m involved in reading a subject’s body language, they are undoubtedly reading mine. I try not to fabricate this language. If I’m nervous, I’ll show them my nervousness. If I’m confident, I’ll show them that. If I want people to be real for me, then I try to be real to them.
Ashley: After your hiatus, it seems like your focus shifted from eccentric strangers and towards more everyday people. Has your comfort level changed since your subjects have changed?
Alec: Over the years, I became progressively more comfortable photographing strangers. But at a certain point, this level of comfort occasionally morphed into a kind of professionalism that I found concerning. I needed to take some time away to remember that photographing other people is best when it’s a human exchange, not a job.
Ashley: How would you describe your experience in curating “A Room For Solace”?
Alec: I was recently walking around galleries in Chelsea and became despondent because so much of the work I saw was cold and conceptual. While I value this kind of work, these days I’m hungry for heartfelt expression. In this bitter and hostile moment, I look to art to remind me of our humanity.
Ashley: What do you want viewers to take from “A Room For Solace”?
Alec: As a photographer, I try not to force an agenda on the viewer. While I might have my own ambition for making the work, I want the viewer to feel free to take away whatever they wish from it. I’d like to allow for that same quality of openness as a curator.
Ashley: What elements were you looking for in the photographs that you chose for the exhibition?
Alec: I was looking for intimacy and tenderness. I tried not to choose pictures that were overly sentimental, but my goal wasn’t to be cool or ironic either. I wanted to look at pictures that felt human.