Looking for Love, 1996


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Alec Soth is known for extensive projects documenting American ordinary life. Looking for Love, 1996 is Soth's latest book and contains his earliest photographs from Minnesota. In 43 black and white images, Soth presents the Midwest as a sometimes bizarre place where tenderness can be found in many a situation.

In 1996, Soth was working in a commercial photography lab. “If you dropped a black-and-white film at [a] drugstore in the upper Midwest, there is a good chance it was printed by me," he writes in the introductory text to the book. 1996 was also the year in which he began taking his own photographs. The photos in this book are from that initial time, and the title Looking for Love, 1996 very well captures the atmosphere of his photography of that period.

A lot of the images depict moments that are easily disrupted. For example, in a photograph of two women kissing, we as viewers somehow sense that this is the first time they are kissing each other. Their heads are tilted backwards a little bit, their mouths higher in the air, exploring the other's tentatively. On the page facing this photograph people are playing cards at a table. The hands of two different people hold a 20 dollar bill: one person clenches one side of it, the other just touches the other side of the bill with a single finger, making it fold a little, so that it's shaped as a "v". The scene looks just as frail as the women's careful kiss on the opposite page.

Fragility is further explored through photographs of older people holding each other. In one image, a man is feeding a cherry to a woman whose wrinkled skin sags around her pearl necklace. The man bends towards her and holds the cherry's stem carefully in front of her lips. In another photograph a man with a name tag that says 'hello my name is Bill', holds a much smaller woman in his arms. There is a gesture of protection in both photographs. However, the shininess of the cherry and the absurd name tag also make the situation look less serious and even a bit bizarre.

It is probably this bizarreness that prevents the book from becoming plainly sweet. Mixed in with tenderness we see silly things, from people awkwardly saying things through a microphone, to a girl who is phoning (home? a friend?) in what looks like a high school hallway with her prom dress on. The opposing pages often rhyme in image. The situations might not correspond, but the images do. In this way, even the viewer who has never been to Minnesota gets an idea of what it looked like, in many aspects, to live there in 1996.

So how might one look for love in 1996? By playing cards? By feeding someone cherries? Perhaps it was less complicated. As a photograph of a billboard on the side of a snowy road says: 'Looking for love... Send note, number and photo to P.O. BOX 9001 in St. Paul, Minnesota'.

Looking for Love, 1996 is available for sale by its publisher Kominek Books