I ventured all the way out to Chelsea the other day to see a new exhibit at the Sean Kelly Gallery featuring the work of photographer Alec Soth. Soth interviewed and photographed men who live off the grid in Appalachia and remote parts of the Southwest. It became obvious from this exhibit, and after looking at the work on his website, that his photography seems to focus on this idea of space. Some of the most compelling pieces in his body of work involve an individual set into focus against a sparse background, whether it’s Karl Lagerfeld drenched in white at a Chanel show in Paris, or a man in the backwoods of Kentucky. This exhibit seems to focus on distance. Distance between the viewer in the gallery and the individuals in the photographs, distance between society and the men in the photographs, etc.
Because this exhibit focused on retreating from society, it was especially bizarre to be thinking about this idea of “solitude” in New York, where it’s nearly impossible to feel truly alone. Sitting in a dark room with eight to ten others, I watched a film accompanying the exhibit, which documented Soth’s journey. His conversations with these hermits ran from funny to disturbing. The most upsetting part of the film was when Soth visits an obviously schizophrenic man in a completely dilapidated house, talking about how his meth-addled parents broke his arms.
It’s always weird trying to imagine how anyone can survive without money or companionship or anything that we’re all “supposed” to have. Although, in the documentary, every one of the men that were interviewed had a TV in the background.
The exhibit runs through March 11.