I was recently made aware of a relatively new podcast called, Magic Hour. The host of the podcast visits different photographers and interviews them. It’s a great podcast and I highly recommend subscribing. Episode #8 is an interview with Alec Soth. I really like Soth’s photographs, especially Sleeping By The Mississippi and his collaboration with Brad Zellar which eventually became a set of newspapers and the book, Songbook. I’ll admit though, that I was always uncomfortable with his emphasis on photography as narrative. For a documentary photographer and member of Magnum, I can see the appeal of thinking of a set of pictures as a form of story telling. But his emphasis on all photography being driven by narrative never sat right with me. As a photographer introduced to the medium through the likes of Minor White and Paul Caponigro I always knew photography could be so much more than just story telling.
A few years ago I wrote a blog post called, In Defense Of Minor White, which was a reaction to a blog post by Alec Soth called, Hope, Failure and Binoculars. I don’t think Soth ever read it. Some thought that I took umbrage with the post. I thought it was just the opposite. I was trying to somewhat enlighten my blog followers on the Equivalent Tradition in photography.
What does this have to do with The Magic Hour podcast? It seems that Alec Soth has had a change of heart and confessed on the podcast that his thoughts on” Zen” photography as he calls it, were wrong! When I heard that I nearly dropped my phone in surprise. According to the interview, Soth had an epiphany during one of his lecture tours and at one point found himself “at one with the universe”. It’s a little corny and simple but it’s the way a lot of White’s students felt when they reached their own epiphanies. He also goes on to talk about the interactions of the audience with the photographs in a very similar way that White described as the role of the viewer. Please read the post linked above to get a better understanding of the Equivalent tradition.
So I am really glad that Soth changed his mind and sees the potential for image making in the “equivalent tradition”. Interestingly, after hearing this confession I became a little more confident in the work I am doing at the moment. I had drifted away from pure “zen” photography and was doing street shooting but as a hybrid of what Moriyama was/is still doing in Tokyo and the way White was shooting in the streets of San Francisco back in the 40’s and 50’s. I was struggling with how to create a narrative out of all this (yes, Soth influenced me also which is why I am so emotionally involved with this). I have been slowly coming to the realization that my work is not storytelling but rather a way of showing how insight can’t come unless you are involved in the world, grit can lead to enlightenment as dark to light as suffering to peace as the erotic can lead to transcendence.
Just recently a title came to me, a combination of gritty urban photography in which the images come through as a sort of gritty enlightenment or transcendence I will call, A Pocket Full Of Nothingness. I’ll announce the Blurb publication in a couple of months and let some of my readers get a chance to win a free copy (with a print?). Stay Tuned.