Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Allowing Flowers by Alec Soth

With the economic crisis and the toll on the housing market we saw and heard hundreds of stories about families facing foreclosure, eviction and/or homelessness. Photographers tried to tell many of those stories through their pictures - to put the human face to the catchphrase of "main street." A noble thing to do, but those stories do little to put people back in their houses or help with the difficultly of such a rapid change to people's lives. Finding a way to give back to your community through your photography is something few have been able to achieve, but Alec Soth has found one.

Alec has teamed up with a Minnesota-based non-profit housing developer called CommonBond Communities with the goal of providing 4000 affordable apartments and townhouses to needy residents of the Upper Midwest. Alec photographed some of the residents of the CommonBond homes and produced a beautiful book called Allowing Flowers that is given away as a gift to people who donate significant sums to the effort.

Soth uses flowers as a motif as they appear in one form or another in each photograph. The metaphor is obvious but appropriate. These homes are grounds to grow and brighten lives.

The few portraits that are taken where we can see some of the interior spaces also seem to be describing lives in transition - they start to ask when a "house" becomes a "home." In one photograph a man at the far left edge watches his sleeping child laying on the floor, in the background, framed photos rest on the floor instead of hanging on the wall. In another, a woman sits at the table in her dining room which is so pristine and tidy, the lack of signs of wear is almost a little sad.

Other photos feature portraits made outside in the communities - a family lays on a perfect patch of green grass in one where Alec is channeling the best qualities of Nicholas Nixon. In another, a woman partly obscured by a tree walks a pure white cat.

I feel odd "reviewing" this book when the real accomplishment is in the funds it will raise for this housing project. The book is available to those who donate $5000.00 to CommonBond (a $25,000 donation gets you a book and a print). Each copy is unique due to the screen printed cover boards and the interior printing is finely done by Trifolio in Verona. The ultra-clean design is by Catherine Mills.

Most of us probably won't have the money to put towards this fine effort. At least not enough to get the book as a gift, but for the few that might - it's not about the book, it's about a home.