What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?
As a kid, I lived in the country and spent a lot of time in the forest playing with my pretend friends. Outside of the forest I was shy and, as a teenager, a little lost. But in 10th grade I took an art class with a guy named Bill Hardy. Bill opened things up. I guess he made it okay to play with all of my old pretend friends again. At first I dabbled in painting, but soon found myself doing earthworks and found-art sculpture outdoors. I documented these creations photographically. Eventually the sculpture fell away and I just continued with the photography.
I keep working with photography because I love the process. To be honest, the medium really gets on my nerves. It is fragmentary and painfully mute. I’d be much more proud to say I was a novelist. But even if I could write novels, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?
What I like about this question is that you acknowledge that emerging photographers often aren’t ready to start promoting themselves. I find it aggravating that so many young photographers busy themselves with self-promotion when they should just be taking pictures. Let’s use the analogy of the young novelist. When you are writing your first novel, you don’t try to get it published based on a single chapter. First you need to write the book. Too many photographers are shopping for galleries and publishers with unfinished portfolios.
It is a long process getting the first project together. And it often leads to failure. Not only does the novelist need to finish the first book, she might need to write two or three before she hits the target. But here is the thing – when the work is good, you will know it. And when you believe in the work, you can promote it. In the end, good work will find an audience.
How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?
I didn’t plan on making a living as a photographer. I wasn’t comfortable in the commercial arena and it just didn’t seem possible to make a living off of art. So I found jobs that didn’t require more than a 9 to 5 commitment. I pursued photography on my free time. After college, I did five or so projects over the course of ten years. I showed my work locally in Minnesota but knew I wasn’t ready for prime time. But eventually I found my groove and did a project I was really proud of. I started winning grants and prizes. One thing led to another and the work was eventually exposed to a broader audience.
West Point, New York, from The Last Days Of W
Priscilla, Los Angeles, California, from The Last Days Of W
Chula Vista, California, from The Last Days Of W
Bonnie (with a photograph of an angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi 2000, from Sleeping By The Mississippi
Venice, Louisiana 2002, from Sleeping By The Mississippi
Sacred Heart Hall, Green Island, Iowa 2002, from Sleeping By The Mississippi
Jane, from Fashion Magazine
Ashley & Kelly, from Fashion Magazine
Tricia and Curtis, 2005, from NIAGARA
Newspaper 2005, from NIAGARA
Gus's Pawn Shop 2004, from NIAGARA
The Seneca 2004, from NIAGARA
© all images Alec Soth