Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dog Days Bogota by Alec Soth

Just after Alec Soth’s debut at the Santa Fe Review that started his meteoric thrust into becoming one of photography’s most popular young artists I had the chance to see an inkjet version of Sleeping By The Mississippi. My friend Gus Powell had been one of the reviewers on behalf of the New Yorker magazine and Alec had generously given him a copy of the book. After discussing what was good at the review, Gus showed me Alec‘s book and I was compelled to contact Alec just to say that I enjoyed the work and loved the way he put the book together. Soon there after, the final version was published by Steidl and after congratulating him in an email I quickly added ‘now get to work on the Dog Days book’ which seemed the next likely candidate for release. Surprisingly, his next project wasn’t to concentrate on that book but to create a whole new body of work with Niagra.

After a longer wait than I expected, Dog Days Bogota has finally been published by Steidl and the results are pleasing and surprising.

The surprising part comes with its size and square format. This is a small book and appropriately so, as it is for small hands. Originally conceived as a book for his newly adopted daughter Carmen, Dog Days Bogota is a scrapbook that is part children’s book and part introduction to reality.

Perhaps like how the stories from the Brother’s Grimm were not entirely for children, this book does not shy away from subjects that reveal the hardness of the world; lessons learned by the young who grow up too quickly in a poor country that was ravaged by drug wars for over a decade.

The book opens with one of the many stray dogs that set the tone as guide and loyal companion through this story. Quickly we establish our purpose in this story with an image of a young couple with a newborn in a stroller that serve as possible stand-ins for the photographer and his wife. (Or could this be the young couple who gave their daughter up for adoption?) What follows is a continuous flow of photos paired across facing pages that are equal parts joyous and melancholy. We are led about, looking at this world that has held still for a moment for us to contemplate and we are given hints of Soth’s inner mindset. A young woman holds an infant that possesses an all-too-wise look in her gaze, a child on a hilltop clutches a baby doll representative of a different nationality, and the stray dogs alternate between vulnerability and confidence.

Interestingly, many of the images include walls photographed in a way that they act as partial barriers to seeing far into the distance. Soth chooses vantage points that limit the sense of depth that in a funny way may seem to be an act of protection, as if seeing too much can be harmful or confusing.

Carmen’s birthmother had written for her daughter, “I hope that the hardness of the world will not hurt your sensitivity. When I think about you I hope your life is full of beautiful things.” In essence, this is what Soth has put into his photographs. He successfully turns the hardness of the world into small visions of beauty that still wound but offer a different outlook that is less threatening and more hopeful.

Buy at Steidlville