PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Gathered Leaves


Book Review Gathered Leaves By Alec Soth Reviewed by Colin Pantall Back in 1935, Marcel Duchamp begin constructing his Boite-en-valise, or Box in a suitcase. These boxes contained miniature versions of his work put into a suitcase. They were like portable exhibitions that, if you had a room small enough, you could use to curate a Duchamp exhibition in your own home.
Gathered Leaves. By Alec Soth.
Mack, 2015.
 
Gathered Leaves
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

Gathered Leaves 
Photographs by Alec Soth.
Mack, London, England, 2015. In English. Unpaged, Clamshell box housing four mini facsimile books (4 vol. set), and 28 large-format postcards., 9x8¾".


Back in 1935, Marcel Duchamp begin constructing his Boite-en-valise, or Box in a suitcase. These boxes contained miniature versions of his work put into a suitcase. They were like portable exhibitions that, if you had a room small enough, you could use to curate a Duchamp exhibition in your own home. He made over 300 of these suitcases and they were all ‘luxury’ editions. In addition to the miniature reproductions of the UrinalMustachioed Mona or Nude Descending a Staircase, these would come with something unique. If you’re used to photobook publishing and the rise of the special edition, it all seems incredibly familiar.

If you look at Alec Soth’s latest publication, Gathered Leaves, the familiarity is even more apparent. Gathered Leaves is a collection of four miniature versions of Soth’s stand-out photobooks, Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, Broken Manual, and Songbook (three of which are currently out-of-print). In addition to the books, there’s a collection of 29 postcards that you can curate into your own Soth exhibition.

Gathered Leaves. By Alec Soth. Mack, 2015.

It all comes in a beautiful box covered in a wallpaper detail from one of Soth’s Mississippi pictures. Since they are out of print, the books are the main attraction; a budget way to own books most people could otherwise not afford. Sleeping by the Mississippi is a poetic documentation of Soth’s journey along the mythologies of the Mississippi. Niagara is a depiction of the loved, the loving and the loveless in Niagara, the one-time honeymoon capital of the United States of America. Broken Manual pictures those who have fashioned an escape from modernity in the back hills, and Songbook is a lyrical take on small town habits of small town America done in small town style. It’s all rather lovely.

Gathered Leaves. By Alec Soth. Mack, 2015.

Then there are the postcards. These show a selection of key images from each of the four books. On the back of the cards are pearls of wisdom both from Soth and from others. This lays down Soth’s philosophy to photography and life; a key reason why Soth inspires such deep admiration.

Soth was once asked which photographers are over-rated. His reply was that every photographer who is ‘rated’ is over-rated. Soth is probably honest enough to include himself in that category even though his work is among the most influential of the twenty-first century. What marks Soth out is a reluctance to sit on that reputation, something that he could very easily have done. Instead, he has continued to investigate the photobook form with a combination of serious-minded integrity and wide-eyed curiosity. This curiosity is evident in both his own work and in Little Brown Mushroom, the creative publishing arm that he manages from his Minnesota Headquarters.

Gathered Leaves. By Alec Soth. Mack, 2015.

This curiosity comes across in the postcard quotes where he asks people to look beyond the obvious.

‘When I teach, it seems like every student wants to do some sort of typology. I just want to shake them and tell them to photograph whatever they want. I tell them to pretend that they have a museum in their basement. It is locked, and they are the only person with a key. I tell them to close their eyes and imagine what pictures they see down there. It can be anything, just be honest. Then make those honest.’
Alec Soth, email interview with Aaron Schuman, 2 August 2004

In other postcards he talks about the mythology of narrative photography; the idea that individual photographs do not have a narrative in the fuller literary sense, an idea reprised in this quote:

I long for stories.

They satisfy. Novels and movies satisfy but photographs often leave me feel (sic) like something is missing. I’m trying to work on this.

Gathered Leaves. By Alec Soth. Mack, 2015.

Photobooks can often be unsatisfying but Gathered Leaves isn’t. It’s not really a book but is something that has been worked on to be an object in itself. Ostensibly it’s a catalogue for a traveling exhibition, but really it’s a box of photographic delights that looks great and feels lovely to touch. The four books do look a bit cheap and flimsy (I was expecting bijou little hard-cover books) but the idea is that they can act as sequencing references to the unavailable and out-of-price original books.

Gathered Leaves. By Alec Soth. Mack, 2015.

And the postcards are great and you can put them up on your wall and have your own exhibition. Of course, the sad thing is that very few people will do either of these things. Whenever Soth makes something lovely, it’s sold out in a flash and becomes a relatively inert part of many a bookshelf. The same will undoubtedly happen to this collection of books. At the same time, you get the feeling that the mini-photobook will become a thing, a cheap thing that will make the unavailable suddenly accessible and affordable in the ten dollar sense of the word. And you saw it here first. Marcel Duchamp doesn’t count.—COLIN PANTALL

Purchase Book

COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

Read More Book Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment