Looking for Love, 1996
Returning to and publishing old work can be an interesting and problematic proposal, particularly if the photographs have not been seen before. Various questions present themselves; Does one re-edit, reproaching one’s younger self? Is it desirable to avoid the contemporary in your reselection? How important is the work in the ‘photographic canon’ and what are the reasons for publishing now?
A fetishisation of the everyday resurfaced within documentary genres in the mid to late 90’s and by the end of the decade was beginning to circumnavigate in a descending and self-referential cycle downwards into the pay of advertising. Whilst Looking for Love is not guilty of this, heralded here are the beginnings of a vibrant counter practice, which at this point, stood outside of the language of commerciality. Within these black and white photographs, the twenty-six year old Alec Soth relays a familiar mix of Midwestern shenanigans and traverses a line between delicate enigma, occasional conceit and a kind of vernacular that is drawn downwards from the swirling photographic ether as well as being borne upwards from Soth’s humdrum day to day existence.
Looking for Love is introduced as a personal document. It is an incongruous medley of sharp edges, not helped by the kind of editing [‘mirroring’ over a double page spread] that directs, rather than opens up possibilities of meaning, diminishing the impact of the many resonant single photographs. The work encompasses a wide range of contextual expression. The dancing men in white, frozen in flash, perform ritual mating gestures as an old lady disinterestedly accepts the gift of a cocktail cherry on the lips, as if the gesture could only ever be a shadow of something long since stilled.
This book is clearly one for aficionados. Soth, working the room, flirting with photographic history. At its best, Looking for Love uses familiar language to extract from social spaces and empty landscapes, dark mirrors of longing, triumph and insecurity. Beyond this, it offers a glimmer of how a more esoteric iteration of American documentary practice might have developed here beyond the expectations of the gallery.♦
All images courtesy of Kominek Books. © Alec Soth