Book Review: 'Gathered Leaves' by Alec Soth
Image Above: ©Alec Soth 2015, Catalogue Cover / courtesy of MACK
Gathered Leaves (2015) is a catalogue of contemporary photographer, and photo book virtuoso, Alec Soth. The collection contains miniature copies of Soth’s four books, three of which are out of print, 29 large format postcards, as well as an essay by Aaron Schuman. The contents are enclosed in an embossed clamshell box.
Image Above: ©Alec Soth 2015, Book Covers / courtesy of MACK
“What function does [a picture] serve? This is the problem with work like mine – that is more lyrical than documentary. Like poetry itself, it is pretty much useless” (Soth, 2004).
Image Above: ©Alec Soth 2015, from 'Sleeping by the Mississippi' / courtesy of MACK
Alec Soth is as much a visual poet as he is a capturer of images. The title of Gathered Leaves is appropriately taken from Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Song of Myself’ (1855). Soth’s catalogue is a song of his own, in a way. Each page of the included books and loose postcards act as fragments of his impressive photographic career.
Image Above: ©Alec Soth 2015, from 'Niagara' / Courtesy of MACK
“Our vision of America is so shaped by television and movies. All we see are Hollywood starlets and New York cops. We sometimes forget that there are whole lives being lived in the middle of America. And some of these lives are really inspiring” (Soth, 2004).
Soth masterfully enters intimate spaces. He acts as an interlocutor between the photograph’s subject and the viewer. His work allows for human connection across the one-dimensional photographic plain. Perhaps, this intimate quality exists partially in Soth’s mode of image making: he uses 8x10 cameras that require a certain involvement on the photographer’s part. The photographer becomes further invested in the image that is being created simply in the heightened mechanics of the camera.
Image Above: ©Alec Soth 2015, from 'Broken Manual' / Courtesy of MACK
Gathered Leaves is an invaluable art object. It allows the viewer to access the oeuvre of an artist who has made an undeniable mark not only as a contemporary photographer, but also as a leader within the photo book world. His first book, Sleeping by the Mississippi (Steidl, 2004), awarded him instant notoriety. He went on to create Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010), and Songbook (2015), all of which document and explore, through his poetic lens, the lives of people in rural locales of America. There is an undeniable taste of fiction within Soth’s documentations. The artist himself states, “I long for stories. They satisfy. Novels and movies satisfy, but photographs often leave me feeling like something is missing. I’m trying to work on this” (2004).