Human Contact

Alec Soth (b. 1969) is recognised as a chronicler of life on the margins of America. He made his name as a Magnum photographer with the 2004 series Sleeping by the Mississippi, a collection of images documenting people and places along the riverbanks. As he travelled, he captured overlooked elements of life in the US – recording an eclectic mix of subjects. Soth’s most recent project, I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, marks a change of direction. The body of work, which is on view at Foam Amsterdam, is vastly more intimate – comprising portraits of people at home, accompanied by still lifes of their personal belongings.

“After the publication of my last book about social life in America, I went through a long period of rethinking my creative process,” Soth explains. “For over a year I stopped traveling and photographing people. I barely took any pictures at all. When I returned to photography, I wanted to strip the medium down to its primary elements. Rather than trying to make some sort of epic narrative about America, I wanted to simply spend time looking at other people and, hopefully, briefly glimpse their interior life.”

The starting point was a portrait Soth made in 2017 of the then-97-year-old choreographer Anna Halprin in her home in California. It sparked an interest in focusing on individuals and their private settings. From then on, the photographer became deeply immersed in the inner worlds of others. “In order to try and access these [interior] lives, I made all of the photographs in interior spaces,” he notes. “Whilst these rooms often exist in far-flung places, it’s only to emphasise that these pictures aren’t about any place in particular. Whether a picture is made in Odessa or Minneapolis, my goal was the same: to simply spend time in the presence of another beating heart.”

In recent months, the need for human contact has been at the forefront of global conversations. Soth’s images tread this familiar line between isolation and connection, whilst exposing the relationship between photographer and subject. They are filled with vulnerability and honesty – holding up a mirror to us as we are when alone.  

From 11 September. Find out more here.

Image Credits:
1. Renata, Bucharest, Romania, 2018. Courtesy Eidos Foundation. © Alec Soth, Magnum Photos
2. Sonya and Dombrovsky, Odessa, 2018. © Alec Soth, Magnum Photos

Posted on 25 August 2020

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