Alec Soth’s exhibition Gathered Leaves was his first major exhibit in the UK. It included four of Soth’s projects, Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2012-14).
Sleeping by the Mississippi recounts Soth’s journey travelling the Mississippi’s 2000 mile course. He shot all of his photographs throughout the project using a large format camera, and you can really tell by the quality of the prints; how detailed the images are. The photographs were displayed around A3 size, the smallest sized prints throughout the exhibition. Included in each section showing his project there was a display case in the middle of the room showing Soth’s notes and books on the project.
Soth’s goal for this project was to show the association with water and escape; how the river directs us where it wants us to go and also relating to the wandering imagination.
Shown below are a couple of my favourite images from the project that were shown, they’re very dreamy and capture the way people live with nature.
Niagara was a series based around Niagara Falls, a place that has always been associated with love. Alec Soth said ‘When I think of the Falls as a metaphor, I think of a kind of intensified sexuality and unsustainable desire.’. Alongside his images of the Falls and couples who he has got to pose for him, and the motels her photographed there is a display which includes love letters he has collected which people have written to their loved ones. It was very interesting seeing these among his photographs. The prints within this section of the gallery were much larger than the previous, showing every detail in the photographs.
The third section of the exhibition Broken Manual explores the desire to run away. The project began with Soth researching Eric Robert Rudolph, the olympic park bomber, and man on the run hiding from the FBI. As he continued his research Soth found manifestos and communications on the internet by people who have chosen to remove themselves from civilisation.
This section of the exhibition was displayed a little differently, as you can see the walks are grey and there are lights illuminating each individual picture. The photographs are A3 or bigger, with some smaller pieces as well. In the display was Soth’s research and also his instruction manual, How to Disappear in Amerika (2009) scribblings which evolved into the book Broken Manual. Unlike the previous displays rather than having all colour photographs within this section Soth has included colour and black and white images. Another element done differently are the titles, instead of the information being where it was taken and the date etc. Soth has used photographers code, which was used in order to reflect on the symbolic language many of the hermits developed in their writings.
The last project shown in the exhibition was Songbook, this was a way for Soth to reconnect with the world after producing Broken Manual. For this project Soth took a more journalistic approach to his work and collaborated with writer Brad Zellar. They went on a series of road trips together across the country going from state to state including: California, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas and in 2014 to Georgia. At the end of each day they would come together and match the stories Zellar write with Soth’s photographs.
With this project all the the photographs displayed in the exhibition were taken in black and white.
The images were very interesting and went from bursts of motion to images that seemed to represent private moments between people. One of my favourites from the series is the bottom left titled Facebook, another aspect to Soth’s work was how now we are all more connected than ever, but someone we’re more disconnected than we ever have been. I found this a fascinating theme and it is something that I have been thinking about a lot how we are all so disconnected, only friends with each other through social media; never seeing one another in person. Yet Soth also obviously shows these bursts of interaction between groups of people, playing and having fun together.
At the end of the exhibition there was a short video showing parts of the making of Broken Manual it was very interesting hearing from the hermits that Soth photographed, seeing how they were living; hearing about his experiences with them. You can see the connection Alec Soth had to the project as he speaks to one of the hermits about how he would like a cave underneath his house, how he would like to live simply. The idea of escape was in his mind during the project.
Overall I found Alec Soth’s Gathered Leaves thought-provoking, it made me think about the world around me in a different way, as I sat in the Science Museum I thought about what Soth was talking about the idea of escape, how we should be free instead of in big cities. This is a feeling I first had when moving to London, going back home was an escape from the chaos that comes from being in a city.