Just Heartbeating – Review of Alec Soth’s exhibition

In the Loock Gallery at Potsdamer Straße 63 in Berlin the photographs of the American photographer Alec Soth will be exhibited from 19.03.2019 to 18.04.2019. With his exhibition I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating, he reflects social realities that are far removed from glamour and constructed realities. 

Alec Soth. Anna from Kentfield in California, 2017.

Alec Soth created the photos for his book and the exhibition between 2017 and 2018, while traveling through North America and Europe. During his journey he met different people from different social backgrounds. He captured these moments with his camera. The photos are therefore very intimate and natural, as they were taken in people’s private space; and very subjective, as the photographer focuses on portraits. In one of his earlier exhibitions like Songbook (2015), he focused only on people’s living spaces instead of people themselves. After Songbook he decided to take a pause of one year to reconnect with nature, forgo the constant travel and human interaction that had become a regular part of his life. Most of the year Alec Soth spent in a run-down farmhouse in Minneapolis, where he meditated and pursued a very different and private way of making art. He was “wildly happy and quite content” with his radical change. When he returned to photography, he wanted to reduce the medium to its primary elements. He just wanted to look at people and take a look at their lives. That’s why the photos were taken in the interiors of the people. “I just wanted to spend time in the presence of another beating heart,” Alec Soth. 

The title of the exhibition I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating is inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem The Gray Room (1917). This poem poses the question of the representation of the complexity of human feelings and metaphysical questions about being in relation to space and the author. Alec Soth wanted to answer the question visually by working with perspectives, reflections, sharpness and blurriness and creating complex images between interaction and distance. When photographing, he almost exclusively used natural light and a large glass plate camera on a tripod. This camera was originally built for Ansel Adams to photograph the American deserts. Alec Soth says, “It’s challenging, but nothing else comes close to capturing light and texture. It’s almost sensual how it caresses surfaces.” This resulted in a total of only 35 large-format color photos, which are composed of a series of 75 photos. Alec Soth wanted to preserve the modesty and sensitivity he felt during the process.

One popular picture shows an old man named Leopold. He sits on an old-looking couch. Through the free upper body his tattoos become visible. The arms are placed supporting next to the body, the gaze is rigid. Another picture shows an old Woman named Anna Halprin. She appears seated on a carved wooden bench. The light pours in through one window, foliage from the overhanging branches of a tree blurring the scene. It’s shot through a window, the inside merges with the outside, and Halprin merges with both. She is in and of the place. Since the photographs refer to living persons with a current social background and were taken in a modern new way, Alec Soth makes an important contribution to contemporary art history. His intention to represent the reality in society has been successful, which is also underlined by his low-contrast portrayal. The exhibition I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating by Alec Soth in the Loock Gallery is definitely worth a visit.