Equally Artistic: Alec Soth & Brad Zellar Visit Ohio, Upstate New York

   Over at Alec Soth's tumblr The LBM Dispatch, Soth and his Little Brown Mushroom cohort Brad Zellar have been uploading dispatches from what will be their second newspaper, upstate. It is the second edition of a planned volume of four; the fantastic ohio being the first. Both are for sale, as well as a 'special edition' of ohio which comes signed in a hand bound portfolio featuring a tipped-in black-and-white print on the cover and a limited edition Alec Soth print. A subscription to all four special editions may also be purchased.

   Soth is no stranger to newsprint. His first foray The Last Days of W. published in 2008 was a fascinating, if sometimes aimless, attempt to capture a sense of the nation reeling from the presidencies of George W. Bush. Now sold-out, it was a success because it was fun and big, but it was affordable, accessible. It was a nice place for many of Soth's best pictures that didn't have a home anywhere else.

   With the LBM Dispatches, the newspaper idea has been refined and focused. The issues have purpose: documenting areas of describable character, we're able to fully immerse ourselves in what's happening. And unlike many photographic projects, we're not always constantly moving from town-to-town, state-to-state. We're affixed to a geographic region, where the people, while individuals, are all sculpted by the same winds and weathers, the same qualities of home.

   Further pushing the newspaper-ness of the project is Brad Zellar's reportage. The photographs in the LBM Dispatches are accompanied not so much by captions - describing or identifying the individuals and places - but by allegory; excerpts from conversations had and presumably recorded by Zellar, observations and comments are all used to offset the portraits with a glimpse of their actual, rather than preconceived, personalities.

The Special Edition of 'Ohio'   After all, photography is the false documentarian's art form. It records reality, but only what you let it see. One of its strengths is that even when the message is clear, photography leaves you somewhat uneasy, a little un-sure of something which you can't quite put your finger on. The moment hangs, waiting to resolve itself - because after all we are beings which exist through time - but never does.

   I think this is why pairing photography up with writing works so well. It's so universal, it's practically the basis for every newspaper, magazine, or internet story there's ever been (okay, so, I exaggerate). The way which we're able to understand more fully through two senses, compared to one, is more than two-fold. When, in ohio, GARY tells us he's been living inside his GMC van for the past three years or Bob W. from American Legion Post 110 in Toledo explains how his father gave him the lowdown: "Son, you've got four choices and you ain't gonna find the word university in front of or behind any of 'em," we begin to sympathize, put ourselves in their shoes. What's felt by looking at the portraits is stronger after reading their comments, knowing them if even by some infinitesimal degree. And by becoming involved with the subjects we become involved with the work.

 

Pages 18 - 19 from 'ohio' by: Alec Soth & Brad Zellar; Little Brown Mushroom, 2012. 

   While Zellar memorably becomes inducted into the Clyde Moose Lodge, there is little intrusion upon their world. Ohio is left to be itself, the reportage more communitarian than journalism, which is good - the most unbiased and fair reporting is that least tainted by the one doing the reporting. I think this portrayal without judgement permeates the book like fog, coloring the scenes with memory and questions. All of the images in ohio and upstate are in black-and-white, and I wonder if Soth choose the medium to more properly conform with the idea of what a newspaper is. Like William Eggelston, Soth is known for his color photography and his early black-and-white work lacks the consistency of his color projects. Deftly printed, the images bloom on the newsprint with a rich creamy smoothness. Many of the prints are deep in the blacks, but with a wonderful delineation of values in the highlights. Due to this nature, many of the images fail to resonate online. Before I received my copy of ohio I was slightly disappointed when they appeared in blog form. Something about the nature of computer screens I believe - brightly back lit - leaves hollow what should be full.

   Nearly all of upstate has been posted onto the LBM Dispatch tumblr, but there is still a third of the publication to still go up, so check back for further material. It seems as if almost all of ohio is posted, including several photographs that aren't included in the newspaper. I would expect the same to be true for upstate. For my eye's worth though, check out the published newspapers. The prints are truly a wonder to behold, and stand up much nicer in the 11.5" X 15" format. I, for one, look forward to upstate and to where-ever lies ahead for Mr. Alec Soth and Mr. Brad Zellar.