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Posts Tagged ‘Alec Soth’

A Conversation About John Cage and William Gedney’s Iris Garden

May 27, 2014 | by

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Iris Garden is a 2013 book that combines John Cage’s stories with William Gedney’s photographs—including several of the composer himself—with an ingenious design evoking Cage’s affinity for chance. The stories and photographs were selected by the photographer Alec Soth: twenty-two of the stories are from Cage’s series Indeterminacy, conceived in 1959, which featured stories of varying length, each intended to be read aloud over the course of one minute; and forty-four photographs from the William Gedney archive, shot from the 1950s to 1989 and housed at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.

Leanne Shapton and Jason Fulford are the founders of J&L Books.

Leanne Shapton: As soon as I started flipping through this book, I thought, I’m so happy art publishing allows for this. It’s a strong book, but it’s quiet and subtle, and the design would never make any marketing department happy.

Jason Fulford: The book comes completely apart, literally. Even the endpapers slide out, and the cover can be unfolded—so you can read it in any order. It reminds me of how my Hasselblad disassembles. You can take all of the pieces apart and lay them out on a table. 

LS: I went to the back of the book and read Cage’s statement, which helped me “read” the book. He wrote: “My intention in putting these stories together in an unplanned way is to suggest that all things—stories, incidental sounds from the environment and by extension, beings—are related, and this complexity is more evident when it is not oversimplified by an idea of relationship in one person’s mind.”

JF: Cage stays with you your whole life. You keep coming back to things you loved about him when you were fifteen, and they still relate to you at forty. Actually, I guess I probably learned about him in my twenties. Did I ever tell you a story about Lee Elickson, the American filmmaker who lives in Amsterdam? When he was fourteen or fifteen, he had a chance to meet John Cage. He brought an empty sheet of music and asked Cage to sign it. Cage asked, What are you gonna do with it? So Lee had to think fast and said, After you sign it I’ll put it on the forest floor for a week, let nature make its marks, and then have it performed by an orchestra. So Cage was like: Oh, okay. Lee still has the paper, but he hasn’t found an orchestra yet to perform it. Read More »

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A Marvelous Crutch: An Interview with Brad Zellar

April 25, 2014 | by

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McKenna. Corsicana Tumbling Academy. Corsicana. Photo: Alec Soth, via LBM Dispatch

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Douglas. Beverly Hills. Photo: Alec Soth, via LBM Dispatch

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Fellowship Church. Grapevine. Photo: Alec Soth, via LBM Dispatch

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Reveille VIII, Texas A&M mascot. College Station. Photo: Alec Soth, via LBM Dispatch

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Texas City, “The town that would not die.” Photo: Alec Soth, via LBM Dispatch

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Cory and Justin, Bull riders, in San Antonio. Photo: Alec Soth, via LBM Dispatch

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Execution of Jerry Martin. Huntsville Prison, Walls Unit. Photo: Alec Soth, via LBM Dispatch

Brad Zellar’s writing has appeared in daily newspapers from Minnesota and in an expansive blog called Your Man for Fun in Rapidan; he has chapters and essays in collections like The 1968 Project and Twin Cities Noir, and occasionally he writes fiction, which he tells me he publishes “under an assortment of fake names.” But he’s most comfortable writing about photographs, as he did in the book Suburban World: The Norling Photos, and in his most recent project with the photographer Alec Soth, the LBM Dispatch.

Named for and printed by Soth’s limited-run publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom, the Dispatch reimagines the iconic American road-trip photography book as a series of small newspapers, each of which chronicles a quick trip Zellar and Soth have taken through a different state or territory. Previous Dispatches have covered Michigan, Ohio, and California’s “Three Valleys—Silicon, San Joaquin, and Death.” The most recent includes images and stories from the Texas Triangle.

I wanted to know about the writing process for the Dispatch, and how Zellar chooses the issues’ many quotations from historical and literary sources. But I was most curious to hear his thoughts on writing to accompany images. Not quite a photo-interpreter in the Berger/Sontag tradition (though he is a great writer in the “how to look” sense), Zellar embraces photography as a fan, and he’s not afraid to let images do the talking when necessary. In Zellar’s work, photos are windows, excuses for curiosity—above all, the Dispatch embodies the devotion to stay curious.

A lot of your work, here and elsewhere, has accompanied photos. How does it affect your own writing to know that pictures will share its space? How does it make you think about your purpose as a writer?

The public library in my hometown had a terrific collection of photo books when I was a kid. I was an obsessive reader, but it was from those photo books that I formed my first real impressions about what the world looked like. And they played a huge role in cementing a resolve that I very much wanted to travel and see that world. I used to spend hours hunched over William Eggleston’s Guide, the first Diane Arbus monograph, and a book of vernacular American photographs called The Champion Pig.

From an early age I used to write stories based on photographs, and I’ve never really stopped. I have a large collection of found photos, I like to take photos myself, and I just get a kick out of looking at pictures and trying to animate them with words. I love that photos represent so many possible realities, and they’re sort of a laboratory for exploring points of view. You have the people in the pictures, obviously, each of them a different voice with a different version of whatever story is being told, you have the people outside the frame or lurking in the peripheries, and then, of course, you have the photographer. Read More »

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The Liminal Space

August 7, 2013 | by

Hiroshi Watanabe. Photo: Ivan Weiss

Hiroshi Watanabe. Photo: Ivan Weiss

For the past thirty years, the photographer Hiroshi Watanabe has split his time between Tokyo and Los Angeles. I met him at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park when he reported for his first day of work on the Bull City Summer project. He’s a compact man who moves carefully but fluidly; at age sixty-two, he resembles a boxing trainer or a retired gymnast. On meeting, he said to me, “I have a question—why did you invite me? I don’t follow baseball and I’ve never photographed it.” He already knew the answer—I think he wanted to find out if I did.

A few days later, during one of that week’s many rain delays, Hiroshi wandered into the dark, narrow room inside the left-field wall, behind the manually operated scoreboard on the thirty-foot Blue Monster. In this barnlike storage space, placard numerals are lifted and installed in the appropriate slots, facing outward into the stadium, to indicate runs, hits, and errors during games. Here’s how Hiroshi described what he found there:

I saw all these panels with numbers on them. I realized that the number zero had a certain translucent quality the other numbers didn’t have. The paint on the zero has been faded by more exposure to sunlight. This fading has made beautiful patterns—maplike, veinlike cracks. The passage of time offers different textures on different materials. In the scoreboard numbers, it’s just faded paint. Only zero shows the passing of time I’m looking for. Read More »

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When Baseball Isn’t Baseball

May 15, 2013 | by

In Ivan Weiss’s trailer for Bull City Summer, guest photographer Alec Soth says, “What I’m doing here isn’t about the game of baseball.” Soth isn’t the first project participant to say this (or words to that effect). The notion has been with us virtually since Bull City Summer was conceived, more than two years ago. It has since grown into an informal slogan.

It’s curious to say that a project about a baseball team, set in and around a baseball park, isn’t about baseball. But in fact, the diamond has long refracted our attention outward from itself: Walt Whitman compared baseball to America’s laws and Constitution; more recently, Michael Chabon wrote, in Summerland, “A baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day.”

The “summer day” part is a little too pastoral for me (the vast majority of games are at night, anyway), but Chabon is right that a ballgame, with its pauses and blank spaces built around what Whitman called the “snap” and “fling” of the game’s energy and action, encourages you to take in everything around it—everything that “isn’t about the game of baseball,” as Soth says. Chabon and Soth are getting at why we call baseball the national pastime instead of the national sport. Read More »

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How William Eggleston Would Photograph a Baseball Game

May 1, 2013 | by

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Photo: Leah Sobsey/leahsobsey.com

I am at war with the obvious. —William Eggleston

Not long ago, I wrote about the formal and spiritual affinities between baseball and the genre of music called power pop. Both observe an “unwavering, repetitive adherence to form” while pushing hard against strict, self-imposed formal limits, thus “mak[ing] music out of a very precise, narrow, angular geometry.”

Then, on April 8, the day before the Durham Bulls’ inaugural home game of the season, Bull City Summer’s first guest photographer, Alec Soth, gave a talk at the North Carolina Museum of Art, where his show “Wanderlust” is currently on view. He began by showing a slide, not of his own work, but of Flowers for Lucia by the photographer William Eggleston. Eggleston “hangs over me,” Soth confessed, before showing a picture he made of Eggleston himself.

These disparate elements—power pop and Eggleston—came together for me just a few hours after Soth’s talk, when the documentary film, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, about the seminal power-pop band, closed Durham’s annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. (Eggleston appears in the documentary, so ravaged and slurred by years of hard living that the filmmakers resort to subtitling their interview with him in order to make him intelligible.) To make a nakedly baseball-centric comparison, you could say that Big Star was a can’t-miss major-league prospect that somehow missed: led by the late Alex Chilton, the band should have found international fame but barely got out of Memphis, the Triple-A city it called home. Read More »

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