Informing Contexts, Coursework - Speaking Photographically

Being able to fluently discuss my practice and articulate the ideas behind my work does not come easily to me, so it has been useful to focus on it this week. One of our activities was to source an interview with a practitioner who interests us and note how they reflect upon and evaluate their work. I selected Alec Soth, as a photographer who has influenced my own work for many years, and whose method of working and subject matter are similar to my own. Rather than selecting a single interview, I read numerous conversations with Soth, and enjoyed learning more about his approach to photography.    

Across all the interviews, Alec Soth speaks of his practice in a way that is understandable and relatable for a wide variety of audiences, and I feel this mirrors the kind of work that he makes. On numerous occasions, Alec Soth uses an analogy to music to discuss the different formats that photography can be disseminated - 

‘Most photography nowadays functions like most music: free online. I’m a fan of this and have always engaged in things like blogs, Tumblr, and Instagram. But this streaming flow seems to make more physical, tactile experiences all the more important. This, I think, is part of the reason photobooks, like vinyl records, have become more popular of late. People want to touch something. But people also want an experience. This is where traditional exhibitions as well as more temporary installations and performances come into play. A traditional exhibition is like going to the symphony; a pop-up show is like going to a rave.’ (Soth in Martin, 2014)

I agree with his analogy, and it reminds us that each method of distributing photography, be it online, in print, or as an exhibition, has a unique and valid role. Soth himself is known for his photobooks, and also has his own publishing company - Little Brown Mushroom. In each of the interviews, he notes that the photobook is an important format for him - ‘I’ve never been obsessed with the single image, I’ve always been obsessed with a great book. That’s fundamentally what I want to do.’ (Soth in Noble, 2015)I can relate to this myself, and with the aim to eventually publish my current work as a book, I have begun making small zines of my work in progress.

I often consider how to achieve narrative through my work, and this is also addressed by Soth in the interviews. He mentions using supplementary material, such as text or moving image - ‘I know that inherently photography isn’t very good at narrative but I long for narrative, so I’ve been able to incorporate narrative but outside of the project a little bit. With the early projects I would do it with these footnotes, with Broken Manual there were these filmmakers following me around, with Songbook it’s the Dispatch.’ (Soth in Noble, 2015)

Across the interviews, I definitely relate to Soth when he speaks of a need to travel in order to create images. His most known series  Sleeping by the Mississippi  began after he received an artist’s grant which allowed him embark upon a three month trip to create the work. ‘The big revelation for me was that I needed to travel, I didn’t know I needed to travel, but I later learned that I thrive on that’ (Soth in Noble, 2015). For his more recent project, LBM Dispatch, A collaboration with journalist Brad Zellar, the duo posed as reporters from a fictional local newspaper. Soth notes the detailed research that they would do before venturing to their shooting destination, knowing all the while that they were ultimately likely to photograph something entirely unrelated. ‘It’s just to have a place to go. I don’t do well driving totally aimlessly. So many of the pictures just come on the way to finding something else.’  (Soth in Kelsey, 2015). This is certainly something that I try to do myself when traveling to new locations. Lately, I have also begun to look for special events in the areas that I am photographing, in the hope that I will have more opportunities to meet interesting people to photograph. 

Lastly, a quote that particularly resonated with me on the subject of photographing people. In an interview with Aperture on the reissue of Sleeping By the Mississippi, Soth notes ‘I’ve always been a big defender of Middle America, saying that it’s far more interesting and complicated than people give it credit for.’ (Soth in Schuman, 2017). I agree with this sentiment, and feel Soth’s work is successful in presenting a multifaceted, humanistic view of Middle America - Something I aspire to do similarly in my own work. 


Kelsey, C. 2015. The Songs of Alec Soth. [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Avaliable From:

Martin, L. 2014. When to Hold ’Em and When to Fold ’Em. A Conversation with Alec Soth.  [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Available From:

Nobel, L. 2015. Interview 028 Alec Soth. [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Available From:

Schuman, A. 2017. Alec Soth Revisits His Legendary First Book. [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Available From:

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