A few weeks ago I went to see Alec Soth's Gathered Leaves at the National Media Museum in Bradford. I'm fairly familiar with Soth's work, I have a few of his books, including a set of smaller scale publications that also goes by the name Gathered Leaves. In that respect, I don't actually believe there was anything "new" there for me, anything that I'd not seen. That doesn't mean to say it was an empty experience though. Despite what I think about books being my favoured form of consumption for photography, there can still be something incredibly satisfying seeing the same images printed larger and this was the case here. It's not always the case and I didn't gel with Struth's incredibly large prints at The Whitechapel Gallery a few years ago, for example. Here though, they impressed.
The exhibition itself was split into bodies of work in different rooms. First was Sleeping by Mississippi, with the prints measuring a large but relatively modest 40x50cm. The frames were in white, the prints in colour, with turquoise being prevalent. A curatorial choice for the gallery walls as I didn't really recall the book striking me in the same way and a further check confirms this. Yes, there are a number of “colder” images in terms of the colours, but not quite so striking as it appeared in the gallery. It changed my reaction to the images.
The second room, now it's Niagara. Larger prints (from 81x102cm to 112x152cm) in pale wooden frames. A very different feel, with a shallower depth of field than Mississippi. The varied size of the prints mean that the photographs interact with each other differently than before. The first room was regimented, regular and perhaps more familiar. Now there is an otherness. More dreamlike, perhaps even haunting in its melancholy. There are elements of this in the book, but again, the tighter curatorial selections has emphasised this.
Broken Manual is again a series of larger prints, this time in grey frames. There are also some smaller prints too, even some in black and white. The change somehow suits the subject matter, makes it a little more abstract, out of the ordinary. This is perhaps the area of Soth’s work I’m least familiar with, I could do worse than get to grips with it...
Finally, it’s Songbook. Black and white prints in the style of a small town newspaper reporter, but printed much larger than your tabloid at 99x132cm (and similar larger sizes) with dark grey frames. Songbook is Soth’s latest collection, the images have been stripped of any newspaper captions, so there’s a sense of something missing. There’s a lot to consider here, with the style of the images counterpointing the reason they were taken.
Alec Soth, Bill, Sandusky, Ohio