Time Out New York / Feb 26–Mar 4, 2009
Alec Soth’s latest photographic odyssey shares something with Paul Graham’s peripatetic series “a shimmer of possibility,” currently at MoMA, and Kelly Reichardt’s doleful indie flick, Wendy and Lucy. All three projects depict an America exhausted, battered, bruised and down on its luck after a decade of meandering in the wrong direction. Though Soth’s pictures aren’t ideological in the campaigning, party-line sense of the word, he is entirely justified in claiming for them a sociopolitical gravity. Like Graham and Reichardt, he casts an unflinching eye over a landscape of economic and spiritual poverty. And while the effect can be similarly unlovely, a vein of hope—or at least potential—runs throughout.
Spanning both terms of George W. Bush’s presidency, “The Last Days of W.” presents some intensely uncomfortable juxtapositions of objects, people and places. In Rock Springs, Wyoming (2008), municipal fireworks explode above a nocturnal horizon, the foreground dominated by a generic strip mall and empty lot. The resulting dissonance is familiar but deeply queasy.
Josh, Joelton, Tennessee (2004), portrays a shaven-headed lad in military garb fixing himself a PB&J, his vacant stare and kiddie meal conveying a lethal combination of blind power and narrow infantilism. And in Camp Purgatory, Ontario, California (2008), a flag hangs inverted over a grubby mess of tents while a lone woman looks on as if in the aftermath of a disaster. Channeling influences from Robert Frank to William Eggleston, Soth adds his own convincing voice to the chorus supporting a fresh start.
Image: Alec Soth, Dynell, Bermidji, MN (girl in store) (detail), 2007