Alec Soth Photographer, U.S.A.

“Dog Days, Bogotá”

LS: You are best known for your large-scale American projects Sleeping by the Mississippi and Niagara, which took him across central America, from Iowa and Illinois to Missouri and Kentucky. Featuring images from portraits to bleak landscapes. Your language has a cinematic feel with elements of folklore that hint at a story behind the image. You find chemistry with strangers and photograph loners and dreamers. What usually inspired you?

AS: For better or worse, I’m an inward looking photographer. I make my pictures out in the world, but the motivation is almost always interior. So the big projects are usually some sort of intuitive response to whatever state of mind I’m in at a given time.


LS: You move between New York, the central America and the Minnesota, working at the center is different than working in the suburbs?

AS: Sorry, I’m not sure I understand this question. I live in Minnesota. I’ve actually never photographed in New York. But I do indeed travel a lot to photograph.

Sleeping by the Mississippi

Sleeping by the Mississippi

LS: YouTell me about your travel and the ‘Dog Days Bogotà’ serie realize, in 2002, to Bogotà.

AS: I made this work at the time when my wife and I were adopting our daughter. I wasn’t planning on doing a project. But we were in Colombia for a couple of months and I found myself looking at this place through the lens of the adoption experience. I don’t consider this work a documentary of Bogotà whatsoever.

Dog Days Bogotà

LS: Tell me about the dogs, how did they become so important?

AS: There were a lot of street children in Bogotà, but I didn’t want to photograph them. The dogs were a sort of stand-in for the street children.

Dog Days Bogotà

LS: The dogs and the children make some of the images playful yet almost all of them have a sadness, is this what you saw in Bogotà?

AS: For me, beauty is always wrapped up in sadness. So I seem to be drawn to that wherever I go. I wouldn’t say that Bogotà is any sadder than any other place. This was just what my eye was drawn to.

Dog Days Bogotà

LS: What is your favourite photo of the serie?

AS: My favorite photo is probably the girl holding a doll on a hill. A lot of people think this is a picture of my daughter. But Carmen was only 2 months old when we adopter her. However, Carmen sort of looks like that girl now. For what it is worth, Carmen’s favorite picture is of the girl with all of the stuffed animals on the wall.

Dog Days Bogotà

LS: The serie is, also, a pilgrimage, I ride that many pictures were made on Cerro de Monserrade, a mountain overlooking the city. Can you tell me better about this choice of the place and what do you want communicate?

AS: Yes, this pilgramage is made to give thanks to God. In my own way, I wanted to thank God, or Bogotà, so someone, for this incredible gift.

Dog Days Bogotà

LS: Having said all of this, it seems that the question of landscape and where it comes from is one that is calling you.

AS: My work is all about moving through the world. It is less about the landscape than the movement through it. When it comes to pure landscape photography, I don’t think I’m very good.

Dog Days Bogotà

LS: Looking at the serie I also konw elements of a novel by Cormac McCarthy, a perfect vision of the contemporary America where Spanish element lives with the idea of the wild border. What do you think?

AS: Very interesting. Cormac McCarthy is such an incredible writer. And yes, this idea of riding the edge of things is very appealing to me.

Dog Days Bogotà

LS: Has this body of work changed the way you look at the world or is it a kind of visualization of it?

AS: Every picture is an act of discovery. It is all about change.

Interview curated by Camilla Boemio