Alec Soth

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Alec Soth
Alec Soth Headshot.jpeg
Soth in his studio
Born1969 (age 51–52)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Alma materSarah Lawrence College

Alec Soth (born 1969) is an American photographer, based in Minneapolis. Soth makes "large-scale American projects" featuring the midwestern United States.[1] New York Times art critic Hilarie M. Sheets wrote that he has made a "photographic career out of finding chemistry with strangers" and photographs "loners and dreamers".[2] His work tends to focus on the "off-beat, hauntingly banal images of modern America" according to The Guardian art critic Hannah Booth.[1] He is a member of Magnum Photos.

Soth has had various books of his work published by major publishers as well as self-published through his own Little Brown Mushroom.[3] His major publications are Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual, Songbook, and I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating.

He has received fellowships from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations and was the recipient of the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography. His photographs are in major public and private collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Walker Art Center.[4] His work has been exhibited widely including as part of the 2004 Whitney Biennial and a major solo exhibition at Media Space in London in 2015.

Life and work[edit]

Soth was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.[2] He was reported to be "painfully shy" in his youth.[2]

Soth liked the work of Diane Arbus.[2] He traveled around the Mississippi River and made a self-printed book entitled Sleeping by the Mississippi which included both landscapes and portraits.[2] Curators for the 2004 Whitney Biennial put him in their show, and one of his photographs entitled "Charles", of a man in a flight suit on his roof holding two model airplanes, was used in their poster.[2]

When he photographs people, Soth feels nervous at times. He said: "My own awkwardness comforts people, I think. It’s part of the exchange."[2] When he was on the road, he'd have notes describing types of pictures he wanted taped to the steering wheel of his car.[2] One list was: "beards, birdwatchers, mushroom hunters, men’s retreats, after the rain, figures from behind, suitcases, tall people (especially skinny), targets, tents, treehouses and tree lines.[2] With people, he'll ask their permission to photograph them, and often wait for them to get comfortable; he sometimes uses an 8x10 camera. He tries to find a "narrative arc and true storytelling" and pictures in which each picture will lead to the next one.[2]

His first book, Sleeping by the Mississippi, was published in 2004.[2] His second book, Niagara, was published in 2006. One of his photos is of a woman in a bridal gown sitting outside what appears to be a motel; he describes having made an arrangement with a particular wedding chapel in Niagara Falls which let him take pictures of couples getting married, by photographing them after their weddings.[5]

Soth made several more photographic books including Last Days of W, a book about a country "exhausted by George W. Bush's presidency".[2]

He has photographed for The New York Times Magazine, Fortune and Newsweek.

Soth, using the pseudonym Lester B. Morrison, created Broken Manual over four years (2006–2010) an underground instruction manual for those looking to escape their lives. Soth investigates the places in which people retreat to escape civilization, he photographs monks, survivalists, hermits and runaways.

He concurrently produced the photo book From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America an overview of Soth’s photography from the early 1990s to the present.

In 2004, he became a nominee of the Magnum Photos agency and in 2008 became a full member. He lives with his wife and children in Minneapolis.[2]

Soth founded the publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom (LBM), in 2010. Through it, he publishes his own, and that of other like-minded people, "narrative photography books that function in a similar way to children's books," in book, magazine and newspaper formats.[6] He has collaborated on numerous books with Brad Zellar, a Minnesota writer from the Twin Cities.

In 2010, Soth flew to the United Kingdom but despite not having applied for a work visa was allowed into the country on the understanding that if he was "caught taking photographs" he could be put in prison for two years.[1] So he handed the camera to his young daughter who took pictures in Brighton.[1]

A 2016 photo exhibition, titled Hypnagogia, featured 30 images from Soth's 20-year exploration of the state between wakefulness and sleep. “Described as a neurological phenomenon, one recurrently associated with creativity, a hypnagogic state is the dreamlike experience while awake that conjures vivid, sometimes realistic imagery,” Soth explained in the artist statement for the project.[7]

His work has been compared to that of Walker Evans and Stephen Shore.[1]


Books of work by Soth[edit]

  • Sleeping by the Mississippi. With essays by Patricia Hampl and Anne Wilkes Tucker and "Selected Notes to the Photographs".
    • Göttingen: Steidl, 2004. ISBN 9783865210074.
    • Göttingen: Steidl, 2008. ISBN 978-3-86521-753-0.
    • Expanded edition with 2 additional photographs. London: Mack. ISBN 978-1-910614-89-1.
  • Niagara. Göttingen: Steidl, 2008. ISBN 978-3865212337. Photographs by Alec Soth, essays by Richard Ford,"1962", and Philip Brookman, "Over the Rainbow: Alec Soth's Niagara".
  • Fashion Magazine. Paris: Magnum, 2007. ISBN 978-2-9524102-1-2.
  • Dog Days Bogota. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007. ISBN 978-3-865214-51-5.
  • Last Days of W. St. Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2008.
  • Sheep. TBW Subscription Series #2. Oakland, CA: TBW, 2009. Edition of 800 copies. The other volumes are by Todd Hido, Abner Nolan and Marianne Mueller.
  • Broken Manual. Göttingen: Steidl, 2010. ISBN 978-3-869301-99-0. With Lester B. Morrison.
  • From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2010. ISBN 978-0-935640-96-0. Catalogue of a retrospective exhibition curated by Siri Engberg. Foreword by Olga Viso; texts by Geoff Dyer, "Riverrun"; Britt Salvesen, "American History"; Barry Schwabsky, "A Wandering Art"; a poem by August Kleinzahler, "Sleeping it off in Rapid City"; and Soth in conversation with Bartholomew Ryan, "Dismantling My Career". Includes separate book The Loneliest Man in Missouri by Soth, inserted into back cover.
  • Ash Wednesday, New Orleans. Kamakura, Japan: Super Labo, 2010.
  • One Mississippi. Nazraeli Press, 2010.
  • Lonely Boy Mag. No. A-1: Alec Soth’s Midwestern Exotica. St. Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2011. Edition of 1000 copies. Photographs and text by Soth.
  • One Day: 10 Photographers. Heidelberg: Kehrer, 2011. ISBN 978-3-86828-173-6. A boxed set of ten books of photographs taken on 21 June 2010. Edited by Harvey Benge. The other books are by Jessica Backhaus, Gerry Badger, Benge, John Gossage, Todd Hido, Rob Hornstra, Rinko Kawauchi, Eva Maria Ocherbauer and Martin Parr.
  • La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Edizioni Punctum, 2011. Edition of 500 copies.
    • Italian-language edition. Text in Italian. 175 copies of the 500 total edition.
  • Looking for Love. Berlin: Kominek Bücher, 2012.
  • Bogota Funsaver. One Picture Book 88. Portland, OR: Nazraeli Press, 2014. ISBN 9781590054178. Edition of 500 copies.
  • Songbook. Göttingen. London: Mack, 2015. ISBN 978-1910164020.
  • Gathered Leaves. London: Mack, 2015. ISBN 9781910164365. 29 large format postcards and mini facsimile versions of Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual, and Songbook. With an introduction by Kate Bush and an essay by Aaron Schuman.
  • I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating. London: Mack, 2019. ISBN 978-1-912339-31-0. Includes an interview with Soth by Hanya Yanagihara.

Publications with others[edit]

  • Suburban World: The Norling Photos. Saint Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society; Borealis, 2008. ISBN 9780873516099. Brad Zellar, Irwin D. Norling, Soth.
  • The Auckland Project. Santa Fe, NM: Radius, 2011. ISBN 978-1-934435-26-7. Two volumes in a slipcase, the other is by John Gossage, Southern stars: a guide to the constellations visible in the southern hemisphere.
  • Alec Soth's Lonely Boy Mag 2: Boys and Their Cars. St. Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2011. Text and photographs by Todd Hido, Soth, Chad States and erotic dioramas by Peter Davidson. Edition of 1000 copies.
  • The 1968 Project: A Nation Coming of Age. Saint Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011. ISBN 9780873518420. Brad Zellar, Soth.
  • Rodarte. JRP|Ringier, 2011. Photographs by Soth and Catherine Opie.
  • House of Coates. Photographs by Alec Soth and Lester B. Morrison, text by Brad Zellar.
  • Ohio. LBM Dispatch #1. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2012. ASIN B008ESQB4Y. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
  • Upstate. LBM Dispatch #2. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2012. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
  • Michigan. LBM Dispatch #3. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2012. ASIN B00BT1KY14. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
  • Three Valleys. LBM Dispatch #4. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2013. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
  • Colorado. LBM Dispatch #5. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2013. Text by Brad Zellar Edition of 2000 copies.
  • Texas. LBM Dispatch #6. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2013. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
  • Georgia. LBM Dispatch #7. Saint Paul, MN: Little Brown Mushroom, 2014. Text by Brad Zellar. Edition of 2000 copies.
  • Ping Pong Conversations: Alec Soth with Francesco Zanot. Rome: Contrasto, 2013. ISBN 978-8869654091. Transcripts compiled from conversations between Soth and Zanot, with new and previously published photographs by Soth. Zanot contributes an introduction, "Alec Soth: the Recycling of Photography".
  • The Parameters of Our Cage. London: Mack, 2020. ISBN 978-1-913620-15-8. Correspondence between Soth and Christopher Fausto Cabrera, an inmate in the Minnesota Correctional Facility.[8][9]

Books edited or with contributions by Soth[edit]

  • The Image To Come: How Cinema Inspires Photographers. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007.
  • Georgian Spring: A Magnum Journal = ქართულიგაზაფხული მაგნუმი ს დღიურები. London: Chris Boot, New York: Magnum, 2009. ISBN 978-1905712151. Introduction by Wendell Steavenson. Photographs by various Magnum photographers.
  • Brighton Picture Hunt. Brighton: Photoworks, 2010. ISBN 978-1903796429. Photographs by Carmen Soth, edited by Soth.
  • Postcards From America. Photographs by Soth, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Mikhael Subotzky, and Ginger Strand. Magnum, 2012. A book, bumper stickers, a newspaper, two fold-outs, three cards, a poster and five zines, all in a box. Edition of 500 copies.
  • About Face. San Francisco: Pier 24 Photography, 2014. ISBN 978-0-9839917-2-4. With essays by Philip Gefter, Sandra S. Phillips, and Ulrike Schneider. Edition of 1000 copies. Exhibition catalog.
  • The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip. Edited and with text by David Campany. Photographs by various.
    • New York: Aperture, 2014. ISBN 978-1-59711-240-6.
    • Road Trips: Voyages photographiques à travers l’Amérique. Paris: Textuel, 2014. ISBN 9782845975002. French-language version.
    • En la Carretera: Viajes fotográficos a través de Norteamérica. Madrid: La Fábrica, 2014. ISBN 9788415691822. Spanish-language version.
  • Rochester 585/716: A Postcard from America Project. New York: Aperture; San Francisco: Pier 24 Photography, 2015. ISBN 978-1-59711-340-3. Edition of 1000 copies.[10][11] Photographs by various Magnum photographers.
  • ABC Photography. Berlin: Tarzipan, 2017. Photographs by various. Text by Monte Packham.
  • Home. Tokyo: Magnum Photos Tokyo, 2018. ISBN 978-4-9909806-0-3.

Solo exhibitions[edit]


Soth's work is held in the following public collections:



  1. ^ a b c d e Hannah Booth (19 September 2010). "The genius behind Alec Soth's Brighton biennial success". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hilarie m. sheets (July 31, 2009). "Trolling for Strangers to Befriend". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  3. ^ Stuart, Brumfitt (6 October 2015). "Alec Soth: in the Pool of Images". I-D. London: Vice Media, Inc. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  4. ^ Campoyleffler, Nicole (Sep 2, 2010). "Spotlight On Alec Soth At Minneapolis' Walker Art Center". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  5. ^ Leo Benedictus, interviewing Alec Soth (7 December 2006). "Alec Soth's best shot". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  6. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (14 April 2013). "How photographers joined the self-publishing revolution". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  7. ^ Mora, Luis. "No Nonsense Advice from Alec Soth". Format Magazine. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  8. ^ CNN, Jacqui Palumbo. "An inmate wrote to a famous photographer. Their letters, and friendship, became a collaborative project". CNN. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
  9. ^ "'A roadmap to redemption': how a photographer helped a prisoner see beyond his cage". The Guardian. 29 October 2020. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
  10. ^ Debbie Grossman (25 September 2015). "How Does It Feel To Have Magnum Photographers Document Your Town?". Archived from the original on 9 September 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  11. ^ Gideon Jacobs (11 April 2016). "A Portrait of Rochester, New York, in 1,000 Photographs". Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Exhibitions – Alec Soth". Yossi Milo Gallery. 24 April 2004. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  13. ^ "Stephen Wirtz Gallery". Archived from the original on 24 June 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  14. ^ [1] Archived May 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Soth Bound", The New Yorker. Accessed 2 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Alec Soth - Niagara". Wohnmaschine. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  17. ^ [2] Archived April 9, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Alec Soth – January 20 – March 28, 2009 – Gagosian Gallery". Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  19. ^ "Alec Soth: Niagara" Williams College Museum of Art". Archived from the original on 2013-11-02. Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  20. ^ "Alec Soth: Black Line of Woods". Creative Loafing Atlanta. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  21. ^ "Triennale di Milano – Alec Soth – Mississippi Niagara". 2010-03-21. Archived from the original on 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  22. ^ "From Here to There: Alec Soth's America". Walker Art Center. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  23. ^ "Künstler : Ivan Grubanov : Ausstellungen : 2013 : Dead Flags – LOOCK Galerie". Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  24. ^ Alec Soth. "Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow | Exhibitions | Alec Soth – La Belle Dame sans Merci". Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  25. ^ "Sean Kelly Gallery – Alec Soth – Installation Views". 2012-03-11. Archived from the original on 2013-12-09. Retrieved 2013-10-20.
  26. ^ "Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth". Media Space. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  27. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (7 October 2015). "Alec Soth: America's most immaculate, intriguing photographer". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  28. ^ Brown, Mick (26 September 2015). "Photographer Alec Soth: 'To me the most beautiful thing is vulnerability'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  29. ^ "Gathered Leaves". Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  30. ^ "I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating".
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Alec Soth". Museum of Contemporary Photography. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  33. ^ "Alec Soth". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  34. ^ "Alec Soth". Pier 24 Photography. Collection - Pier 24. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  35. ^ "Alec Soth". San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  36. ^ "Walker Art Center". Walker Art Center. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  37. ^ "Whitney Museum of American Art: Alec Soth". Whitney Museum of American Art. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  38. ^ a b c "Meet the Fellows - McKnight Foundation". McKnight Foundation. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  39. ^ "Alec Soth". Archived from the original on 2018-06-12. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  40. ^ "Jerome Fellowships Past Recipients". Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  41. ^ "Santa Fe Prize - 2011 - CENTER". CENTER. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  42. ^ "CEPA Gallery's 9th Biennial Photography Auction". Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  43. ^ "Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2006". Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  44. ^ "Deutsche Borse photography prize 2006 index". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  45. ^ "Alec W. Soth". Bush Foundation. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  46. ^ "Bush Foundation announces its $100,000 and $50,000 grant recipients". MinnPost. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  47. ^ "Infinity Awards 2011". International Center for Photography. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  48. ^ "Guggenheim Fellowship". John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  49. ^ "McKnight announces 2013-14 photography, new media fellowships". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  50. ^ "Finalists named in Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul; 'Wreck' at Guthrie's Dowling Studio". MinnPost. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  51. ^ Kerr, Euan. "Alec Soth finds humanity in social media, fleeting images". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  52. ^ "Alec Soth / Little Brown Mushroom - Knight Foundation". John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Retrieved 2018-06-12.