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Alec Soth dives deep on photo books

Leading US contemporary photographer, Alec Soth, has launched an interesting educational YouTube video series, where he showcases a photo book and discusses, or ‘rambles’, about a project or artist.

YouTube has no shortage of personalities ‘vlogging’ about photography, and the content can be hit-or-miss. The most popular channels focus on gear reviews and tutorials, sometimes pulling viewers in with sensationalist click-bait headlines or over-the-top personas. But hey, who can complain about free daily content!?

Soth’s approach is more akin to a cool university lecturer sharing well-constructed thoughts and opinions about photo books. The soft-spoken Magnum photographer and educator simply aims a video camera at photo books, and while flicking through it he goes into unscripted and unedited ‘ramblings’, as he describes it, about various topics.

‘I feel like, since I spend a lot of time on Zoom (video conferencing software) talking to students and whatnot, I wanted to make a more tactile experience showing work,’ he said in a video. ‘So I’m playing around with strategies for doing that and talking about different books. It’s fun for me to talk about other people’s books.’

So far he’s released three videos in two weeks, with the most viewed a 42-minute analysis of William Eggleston’s 1989 photo book, Democratic Forest, along with other Eggleston books.

‘This is a really rambling talk, it’s not a prepared lecture,’ Soth begins in the video. ‘This is a book that has been stuck in my brain for 25 years. It’s a book a think about all the time.

‘…I probably didn’t see it [Democratic Forest] until my senior year [in college], and I was so confused by it. I think it’s a very challenging book, unlike Eggleston’s Guide it’s not a beautiful book. It’s dust jacket is a very unusual selection for a cover photo, and it has this kind-of mass market feel.’

Soth’s general knowledge, critical observations, anecdotes, and overall fascination with Eggleston’s work will likely be enjoyable to anyone interested in photo books, Soth, or Eggleston. While Soth appears to be a deep intellectual thinker, the video presentation comes across as accessible to folk with a passing interest. It’s aided by Soth not having too much of an academic-style, or lathering on the alienating art speak.

Alternatively, Soth’s soft monotone voice could serve as the perfect lullaby to drift off to sleep!

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