Alec Soth began his talk in
’s lush new Eckstein Hall Wednesday night by quoting David Hockney: "photography is great if you're a paralyzed cyclops." Succinct and dramatic, that describes a common limitation of photography, which traditionally assumes a static viewpoint with a single lens. Many photographers have employed a variety of strategies to overcome this limitation, including Hockney himself who famously fragments his subjects with multiple images, evoking the analytic cubism of Picasso and Braque. Soth creates a body of work with a narrative arc that ties individual images together, albeit often rather tenuously. Marquette University
Mother 1, Yorkshire Moors
In his talk, Soth took up that last point directly, expressing his personal preference for situations in which he knows little about the subject he is photographing. He likes to project his own imagination onto them. This flies in the face of a conventional wisdom practiced by many photographers who often go to great lengths to know their subjects as intimately as possible. A personal favorite practitioner of this latter style is Mary Ellen
Mark, who, for example, once spent three weeks living inside the maximum security section of a psychiatric hospital in order to establish personal relationships with the patients in Ward 81. Soth, by contrast, relishes brief interactions. The image below, which is in the exhibit, took 15 minutes, he said, and he knew nothing about the woman, except that on Ash Wednesday the mark on her forehead was made with cigarette ashes. Soth likes to create narratives, but he wants them to be his own ("artificially constructed") narratives. His subject is indeed a cipher for his point of view.
|Alec Soth: Adelyn, Ash Wednesday|
The title of the show recalls "Mirrors and Windows," the legendary 1978 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art by John Szarkowski (which I still remember seeing when it came to what was then called the Milwaukee Art Center!) Szarkowski identified two strains of photography: it can be a mirror, reflecting the mind of the photographer, or a window, through which one sees the external world. The exemplary collection of images in this exhibit seem to take a more nuanced position, to challenge the distinction between mirror and window. They are windows into a kind of reality, but one that can't be trusted to represent anything other than the artist's intentions.
Patrick, Palm Sunday
"The Truth is not in the Mirror” continues through May 22. There will be a panel discussion about the exhibit next Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 6 pm. Additional programming and other information available at Haggerty Museum of Art.
With two runs already in, the lineup at the Haggerty makes it look like they will score again.