Every Thursday evening, the National Portrait Gallery presents “Face-to-Face,” a talk about a selected portrait on view in the gallery. As part of this regular series, Brandon Fortune, who is a curator of painting and sculpture at NPG, discussed this portrait by Alec Soth. The photograph—titled Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans, Louisiana—was taken by Soth in New Orleans, while he was working on his book Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004). The image is on display in the recently opened exhibition “Portraiture Now: Feature Photography.”
Adroitly navigating the disciplines of editorial photography and fine-art work, Alec Soth has emerged as a leading American artist. He is a member of the famed Magnum Photos group, and has shown his work in galleries and museums in the United States and in Europe.
Born and based in Minneapolis and educated in New York, Soth first attracted critical notice with his series Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004). Since then, he has published NIAGARA (2006), Fashion Magazine (2007), and Dog Days, Bogotá (2007). Unlike many contemporary photographers, Soth works with a large-format 8 x 10-inch camera, which, given the time involved in setting up for a photograph, creates an intense relationship between the artist and subject. Soth sees this as the crux of his work.
For this exhibition, we have chosen a selection of his portraits of women, drawn from past editorial work and fine arts projects, including three portraits from Fashion Magazine, which explored the world of Paris couture and countered those images with subjects from Soth’s Minnesota home. As he notes, “I’m trying to come to terms with how I honestly see and depict women. Are my pictures romanticized? Sexualized? Why do I see women in this way? For me, photography is as much about the way I respond to the subject as it is about the subject itself.”
Listen to Brandon Fortune's Face-to-Face talk on the portrait by Alec Soth (15:54)
The next Face-to-Face talk is this Thursday, January 29, when Curator of Photographs Ann Shumard speaks about the portrait of Michael J. Fox by Steve Pyke in “Portraiture Now: Feature Photography.” The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans, Louisiana / Alec Soth / Chromogenic print, 2000 / Collection of the artist, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York City / © Alec Soth