Alec Soth at the Science Museum

Wednesday 9 March 2016

With a few hours to kill before a meeting at the Victoria and Albert Museum for our next event, I decided to brave the chaos at South Kensington and fight through the gaggles of over-excited half term children to pay a visit to the Science Museum. Currently on show is Gathered Leaves, photographer Alec Soth's first major UK exhibition. I was familiar with Soth's work from his series Sleeping by the Mississippi, photographed on roadtrips along the mid West's famous river, featuring the people inhabiting the landscape as well as place itself. Though Soth is sometimes described as a documentary photographer, I'm less inclined to categorise him as such; his work is more like poetry than it is prose (something he describes as making it 'pretty much useless'). Individually, his photographs are stunningly beautiful, tiny vignettes brimming with story. But it's as a whole collection that the images come together in a uniquely coherent whole, which simultaneously provide a narrative yet leave so many questions unanswered - in the best kind of way. 

It's particularly great to see the photographs at full size, with all the detail provided by large format photography, and interesting to see which details are left in (for example, a tiny piece of rubbish on an otherwise clean carpet in the nude portrait of Michele and James in the Niagara series). Alongside Sleeping by the Mississippi and Niagara are also displayed images and pages from Soth's 2010 project with writer Lester B. Morrison, Broken Manual, exploring people who live life 'off grid' and the spaces they inhabit. The final form of the project came in the form of a written manual, contained in a shell of another book, its insides cut out. The Songbook series finishes the exhibition, featuring human interactions, moments of community and connection (or lack of) across America, underpinned the almost sweet melancholy which is so typical of Soth's work.

Finally, I was extremely pleased to see Soth described as an 'Instagrammer' - it's refreshing to see an openness towards digital media and an appreciation for new photography tools which can often be looked down on. The exhibition is mesmerising and fully worth the £8 entry price (and only £4 if you have a National Art Pass, which is also worth getting if you're an exhibition regular!)

FIND 'GATHERED LEAVES' AT: The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD - until 28th March.

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