Photography as language: Alec Soth shows a comprehensive collection of works gathered and commpiled over the years that are woven into a story of its own. „Gathered Leaves“ at the Science Museum London displays key works of this photographer who’s widely considered as one of the greatest contemporary explorers of the American psyche.
Derived from his four books Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual and Songbook, the work combines portraiture, landscapes and interiors, presented along with ephemeral inspirational material. Though the subject matter ranges from portentous wide shots of waterfalls to intimate portraits it’s easy to follow Soth’s common thread: documenting and witnessing America as it presents itself off the beaten track.
Soth’s work has taken him across the whole of the US and it is the lesser known or unknown states that firmly hold his attention. It’s the “big middle” seen as a constantly shifting morass of economic stagnation, religious fervour and eccentricity, all under oppressively massive slate grey skies. His subjects gaze into the lens as if challenging the viewer, often brandishing fetishistic objects that summarise their personalities.
The exhibition is sprinkled with these strange people Soth has picked with an unmissable sense for the unusual. They’re silently captured amidst the tangled detritus of their lives. Aside from his compositional and technical skills, you quickly develop a appreciation of Soth’s skill in finding subjects who seem to be unworldly strange. Soth emphasises their solitude, often showing them as tiny figures dwarfed by the wilderness around them and in some instances appearing to actually physically melt into the greenery. Even though none of his subjects look particularly happy with their lot, the collection conveys a sort of primal romanticism. It’s the hidden dream of just letting everything behind and head for the wild.