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.


Alec Soth said...

Jeff, thanks so much for writing about the book. And I'm glad you mentioned the designer, Catherine Mills. She's done a lot of books for Fraenkel Gallery and is the absolute best.

One note about the screen printed cover. This is actually wallpaper. We used several different colors and the pattern falls differently on each book. In this way all of the books are a little bit different.

thanks again...


Lisa said...

Oh, thanks so much for posting this! My grandfather lived at CommonBond homes (and is a big part of why I work there now) and was one of the subjects for this. (the fourth thumbnail from the left). He was a child of the depression, and it meant so much to him to have his own stable home.He lived there, totally independently, until he passed away a few months ago at 91. My family is just so grateful to Alec have this beautiful record of my grandfather.

THANK YOU to both the people that make these homes possible and to Alec for capturing my grandfather's memory. It means a lot.

Anonymous said...

This is so annoying.

jeff ladd said...

What may I ask is annoying? Helping others?

shutterstutter said...

Anonymous, guess you mean to say the fact of people complicates protraiture. C'est la vie, eh?

Joseph Michael Lopez said...

Social praxis.

Annoying ?

Wake up.

Who is anonymous ?

Hat's off to Alec and Jeff.

Anonymous said...

Annoying was too harsh. Helping others is fine but there are ways to do it, a tone of voice to find. I sincerely hope money is being raised.

robert said...

to use pics of flowers as metaphor for hope is a little tedious..but I get it it's not about the photographs here,but a little caring and good old fashioned charity..-well done folks!-Robert

Alec Soth said...

Dear Galatea,

Thanks so much for writing. Your Grandfather was such a sweetheart. And it was so great that he was able to attend the launch of the book at the Walker. I will never forget his warmth and gratitude when I signed his book. It was one of the most meaningful moments in my creative life.

Dear Annonymous,

I'm glad that you think 'helping others is fine.' A whole team of us spent over a year working on this and raising a bunch of money, but we should have worked harder. Maybe we could have achieved a 'tone of voice' as sophisticated as that of an anonymous blog flamer.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alec Soth,

I came back on my first comment a little, I can see this is hard work, and generous work too.
No one in his right mind would criticise the intention behind this project.

The fact that something is done for charity doesn't mean everything is ok though, aren't you ever annoyed by the codes used by charity TV ads?

So, yes, I have a problem with the way the people are portayed in the pictures shown here: Mute, dazed, motionless, the only man standing looks like he is going to colapse any minute.
I bet that most these people have plenty more drive and energy left in them. That they were able to joke with you and giggle with embarrasment while you were pointing the lens at them, and that kids were running around making noise too.

Jeff Ladd will decide to post this or not, I understand that there is a lot of emotion around the work and that it's a bit silly to have that kind of conversation here. My mistake.

Stuart Alexander said...

I take comments from anonymous posters as seriously as I do offers for 5 million dollars from Nigerian emissaries.

Anonymous said...

Geez Stuart, that's a bit generous....