Big Al – Conversation

Alec Soth photographed in San Antonio , Texas by Panos Skoulidas , April 6, 2011

 

On Apr 6, 2011, at 3:04 PM, David Alan Harvey wrote: 

many thanks for the transcribe anna…pictures? d

 

On 4/6/11 2:49 PM, anna maria barry-jester wrote:

Here you go…
There seems to be a little missing in the middle of the interview…I think a sentence cut off between clips you sent me…you should be able to fill it in very easily from the original file….I noted in bold where I think something is missing below.
xo
a

Here’s the transcript of the Soth interview….this is unedited…this is a FOR REAL CONVERSATION

DAH – Alec Soth Interview

Nat sound (ringing)
(banter)

DAH: Let me start with the most recent thing that I found out about, and that is Big Al’s printing. The thing that’s always fascinated me about you, other than your photography which of course is how I knew you in the beginning, is your versatility. I mean I knew your work only with Mississippi of course, Sleeping by the Mississippi, before having met you in person. And then very quickly you became a very popular blog person and you’re involved in a lot of stuff- soft industries as I like to call it. And then we’ve got Big Al’s printing. Tell me about this multiplicity of ventures for you, besides your photography.

ALEC SOTH: Well first of all, I mean, I’m talking to you from Minnesota, and I have this sort of midwestern sensibility in which I think everything is always going to come to an end, and I’m gonna fail. And I feel a need for job security. So the most secure thing has been diversifying everything so I don’t have all my eggs in one basket. So that’s where Big Al’s comes in. But I’ll tell you what led up to that is that I was in Alex Majoli’s place in Italy, and he’s got this set up where he’s got a studio, and then there’s this Chesura lab, which is this group of people that use his equipment, but have their own little printing operation as well as all sorts of other stuff that they do. And I thought that was really fantastic, and so I came back home, and I thought, this has always been an issue, where we have all of this stuff, all of this equipment, um, but it just sits there a lot of the time when I’m not using it, so it just seemed like it makes sense. I mean, the people who work for me use it, but why not have them expand that and let other people, charge other people to use it, you know, make a little bit of money. But also there’s this one guy, his name’s Eric, who wanted to do some work with me or whatever, so he can run that thing, it’s not really my business, I’m not that involved with it, a little bit involved with it, but it just made sense. But I’m not like Mr. entrepreneur, you know.

DAH : Well, you’ve definitely diversified, and of course I’m going to copy you on every single thing. Of course I’ve hated every minute of copying you.

ALEC: But that’s what it is, I’m copying Alex. (laughter)

DAH: I know, I know, he’s got an empire there. But it’s a very interesting model for all of us. So you’re main person I guess who was your printer for your shows ended up sort of creating his business through Big Al’s operation.

ALEC: …A little bit, we had a printer that worked up to a certain size, and then we had to outsource a bigger size. and so, at a certain point, it’s just like “I’m going to buy that printer, it doesn’t make any more sense.” But if i’m going to buy the printer we might as well use it, you know, that kind of stuff.
But the thing is, it was being exposed to Majoli’s way of doing things, which isn’t for me, I mean, I’m not gonna have…it’s like a commune out there. You know, they’re all sleeping in rooms above the studio, I don’t want to do that. I just want to pool our resources. I mean, that’s what it’s about, and when you talk about Magnum, that’s what it’s about. It’s pooling resources.

DAH: Right, is that the modus operandi for Little Brown Mushroom as well, is that the same kind of thing?

ALEC: That’s a little bit different. I mean, Little Brown Mushroom is about having fun. So, and, Big Al’s is, well, who knows what it is, it’s about we’ve got some equipment lets use it. Little Brown Mushroom is about having fun, and making cool things. And it’s not about the art world, it’s not about getting caught up in that, it’s not about trying to make money, and if it makes money fine, if not that’s ok, you know, I just want to break even ideally. But it’s about that spirit of when you’re a teenager and you’re just making stuff because you love it. It’s just remembering that feeling you know. When you get caught up in the professionalism of everything, you can forget about it.

DAH: Oh yeah, it ruins everything, right?

ALEC: Well, it’s a danger, and that’s what I would say about the blog. You know, I started the blog as a retreat from the art world, as a place to just talk about issues, and then all of a sudden it turned into another business, and so I dropped it. Little Brown Mushroom hasn’t yet, it’s still, it’s like we’re just having a lot of fun with it.

DAH: Yeah, it looks like it. Yeah, it’s great. Who did the design work, did you do that or did you have a designer do that?

ALEC: It started off, I mean, I don’t know anything about design. You know, I don’t know cmyk from… I’m an RGB, photoshop, that’s all I know. But I wanted to make little things, so I just started making little zines. you know, the kind of thing where you go to Kinkos, you know, staple-bound little things. And then one thing led to another and I met a designer named Hans Sieger, who lives in Wisconsin, and uh, it all kind of came together in my head. Little Golden Books was something I was interested in, do you remember those children books? They were published out of Wisconsin, and it just felt like something that was meant to be. And so here’s this really cool designer, who happens to live there, you know, he does most of his work in New York, really high end, but he lives in Wisconsin. And here’s Little Golden Books, and merging these ideas. And he works unpaid, he just works just for the fun of it too, he’s just into it, and so we collaborate on it, we print it in Wisconsin which is great. It’s a little cottage industry.

DAH: Yeah, well, that really is cool. That’s interesting. You say that you’re, that this was one of the things, Big Al’s, and then just your mentality in general is kind of a midwestern job security thing, which you know, I understand that. And the other thing is just to have fun and a little bit of an escape from the art world. On the other hand, you’ve busted your ass to make it in the art world. So is it just because…you don’t really want to escape the art world do you? I mean, isn’t that your mainstay?

ALEC: Yeah, that’s how i make a living. Um, it’s not that I want to escape the art world, but I have to keep it fresh, and it’s kind of like, uh, to use a music analogy, it’s like. Ok. Maybe I’m not playing arenas now, but I’m playing big venues. And sometimes you have to just go down to the club, and just play, and play some new stuff for a real audience. That’s what I mean, it’s just like keeping it fresh, you know, and also keeping the experimentalism alive so that you can try things. So maybe you can screw up at the little club with 30 people, it’s not that big of a deal.

DAH: Yeah, everybody loves the garage band. The garage band stage of anybody’s career is THE stage.

ALEC: Absolutely, right. Its just keeping some of that alive is all.

DAH: I understand that completely. That’s a pretty good analogy.

ALEC: You know, I want to play arenas, I mean, don’t get me wrong I want the big audience still, I just want to keep it fresh.

DAH: Now, you’re in the art world, you’re selling prints, you played the arenas so to speak. At the same time, you’re doing some editorial work. That certainly isn’t for the money, that editorial work. So is that just part of the fun thing? Or keeping yourself fresh? Or where does that come in? That’s more of the, why would you be in Magnum in the first place since you’re so successful in the art world?

ALEC: (audio missing between clips???) one iota. And if you think about what that collective artist could be, it’s gigantic. The thing is, I started big al’s last week, and I email some people or whatever and it goes around the little blogosphere. But I ask Magnum to put it on their facebook, and to do a tweet about it, and that’s a lot of people. And, we can access just a much larger audience as a group.

DAH: So distribution is still important, it’s just a different kind of distribution. It’s a twitter, facebook fanclub thing. Plus we bring our own audiences in there too.

ALEC: Yeah, absolutely. And bringing our own audiences into that is something that we haven’t really done, or figured out how to do. Um, but we’re working towards it.

DAH: Yeah, well, that’s what you and I are supposed to do. We’re on the committee. I’m a little bit out of the loop. I saw the note from Jonas this morning, but it’s the first time I’ve heard from him, so. There are a lot of reasons for that. I do wish we were a little more coordinated with those kinds of ideas and thinking, cause I think that if we actually really did get you and jonas and chris and I in the same room, even for a short time, we might be able to come up with a bunch of good ideas that could push us forward. Unfortunately we don’t really have the mechanism for that because we’re all out in different places all the time. That’s the bad part about Magnum. The good part is that when we’re together there’s magic often times. But then we go off in separate directions, it’s very hard for us to stay coordinated.

ALEC: For me, I mean, and I talked about this, I don’t know what’s
(rambling about what part of this conversation will be used)
2:45

ALEC: This is a real taboo, but it’s something I wanted to talk about…it’s the club element of it. And I hate the word club, but, I think it’s a significant part of what it is for people. You have this brand, you’re attached to this thing, and these other people, and I think so much of the business stuff, which actually doesn’t work, just gets in the way of all that.
(laughing)

ALEC: The retreat was really successful. And it was like, wow.

DAH: Well, I can see, I mean I couldn’t even be there but I was all over that psychologically from the very beginning because I thought, if I can have the Magnum crowd down here like where I’m sitting right now. I mean, I’ve got dunes, I’ve got water, and I’ve got a great front porch. I’ll just show you (sounds of david picking up computer and walking away). This is where I want to hang out with you guys. I’d like to invite a bunch of you down here, you know (sound of creeky screen door opening), and uh sit on my porch right, and look out at the sand dunes over there.
(sound too faint to hear). I would love it if you guys were sitting down here by the fire, and it would be a great meeting of the minds. The truth is that when I do meet Magnum photographers, like one on one, and on assignment, we really do have a lot of good stuff in common, and I’m sure you found that out on the retreat.

ALEC: The business stuff comes out of it too. I mean, like I said, just going to Majoli’s place, suddenly Al’s opens up 3 weeks later just from that experience. And it’s that kind of pooling of resources, which we don’t even have time for, and that’s how the retreat came about is my frustration that the AGM (??), at least for the younger generation, cause we used to not have to be involved, and now we have to be involved, and it’s just ruined it, where we don’t get to hang out.

DAH: It’s a slug, you never get to go out and just have a beer, and somehow you don’t even end up talking about the business stuff. You end up getting into spreadsheets instead of the business, and there’s a difference. Now listen, I know you have to go, and I think we probably have enough…
…wait, but I have to show you my window, just to see where you don’t want to visit. Let’s see if we can get the exposure right (laughing).

ALEC: I have this feeling that Magnum’s just going to turn into BURN.

DAH; No! I don’t mean…

ALEC: No, I mean it in a good way.

DAH: No, to be honest with you, what I really really want to do is probably quit burn in June, or have it evolve into something else, or have somebody else run it or,

ALEC: I know what you mean, but it’s just that the spirit of it, it’s just like funding Paolo’s thing..No, but it’s just like, that’s the kind of energy that we so badly need.

DAH: I know it, but the thing is what I don’t want to do, and I’m sure that you of all people can totally appreciate this, I don’t want to get so involved in minutia and local politics that it just burns up all of the energy. There’s x amount of stuff that we’ve all gotta do in our lives, we’ve all gotta pay taxes, you need to get your kids off to school, you need to fix the garage door. We’ve already got lots of stuff. And I can’t take on a whole other thing with Magnum beyond a certain point. Anyway, many thanks amigo..

Postcards from America

Little Brown Mushroom

Big Al’s

Alec Soth

 

423 Responses to “Big Al – Conversation”


  • Yikes! Font!

    Cool photo, Panos! Very Soth-ish!

  • Great picture, Panos. congratulations!
    very interesting interview conversation, thanks for sharing.
    I need to read it several times to fully get it, however. :)

  • a civilian-mass audience

    BRAVO MR.HARVEY..BRAVO ALEC…
    that’s the kind of energy that we so badly need…yeap,I am copying ALEC:)
    Wooow…he looks Greek and his name Alec=Alekos…hmmm…well,

    Viva BIG AL
    Viva DAH
    Viva UNCLEP
    Viva BURN CREW
    Viva BURNIANS

    the Universe is working…we are in the zoneeeeeee!!1

  • a civilian-mass audience

    and Viva ANNA MARIA BJ…

    What not to LOVE…!

  • Alec is posing so far, I thought this was a late additon to the US80 essay! :-))))

  • Yeah.. just blame the Italians ;)))

  • Technology and the Internet should have made it easier for these “meetups” to happen spontaneously with groups of creatives scattered around the world…but, even video conferencing isn’t the same as sitting around the living room with a beer for generating new ideas. Don’t know the real answer for that. But, interesting discussion between Harvey and Soth.

    I’ve said from the beginning of Burn that it was a diversion that DAH really didn’t need, so I’m glad he is moving away from it. But, I’m not sure Burn can survive without him at this point. Unless he has plans not yet revealed for the magazine, I’m not sure its future is very secure. Burn still seems half-formed, without a clear sense of what it really is. DAH’s influence on it and his choices of essays has really been the draw for Burn, so how does it proceed beyond him?

    Interesting interview, though. I like to hear creative people “thinking out loud.”

  • love this chat! :)))))))….so much to say David, Alec, but litteraly no time today to write….will try to write something for your discussion this weekend :)))))….so much i want to add :)))….but i’m happy the chat begins

    PANOS! :)))))))))))))…

    love your picture/portrait brother…and you know (maybe folks don’t know) this is not only a great shot that shows (to me) a big truth about Alec: that he is a down-to-earth, straight up, good guy and very ‘simple’ in the clarity of his thinking (intelligent, witty, precise) but in his gentle, nice person. Does it sound fuck up these days to say that someone is genuinely nice? Alec is. Love the way he is tilting his head (he always does when photographed) and the way he always stands with arched legs apart…Mountain Man ;))…and here is the exclusive: alec is NOT wearing a hat…that is like catching me without a vest….or a white tiger in siberia ;)))

    DAVID :))))…more words later :))))…you’ll have loomings soon….what u saw at FB was a pic from it :)))

    more comments on David/Alec discussion later

    enjoy y’all!

    running, literally
    bob

  • HERVE…

    well, of course, that is why i chose that picture AND changed the lead shot for U.S. 80 as well…mostly i try to connect the dots around here…plus, Alec and Chris and Susan and Jim are off from San Antonio to Oakland on Magnum’s first Postcards of America trip..this trip is already a big hit and it has not even started yet, so sequels to follow….there will be many interesting ways to cross America upcoming and by the end of it..a big book exhibit? you can be sure of it…

    JIM..

    yes, you have always taken that stance about me with Burn…you use the term “half formed” , and i have always used “evolving”, but i suppose those are pretty much the same thing if you compare Jimspeak with Davidspeak…smiling…and actually , ironically, is exactly what Alec and i are talking about….not a bad thing at all to start something, fire folks up one way or another, and then let it go…move on to another good idea…or even bad idea…just trying to do something WORKS…

    one way or another Jim , we have built a nice so called “brand” here with Burn and its imperative to try and give the next generation at least a brink in the wall of a boost during these hard times for our biz…and right now, in the coming weeks, you are about to see some of the very best examples of what Burn attempted, albeit “half formed” as you intone….Burn will publish, exhibit, and support from the sidelines various Magnum projects AND projects from other agencies and photographers as we have always always done…one of the most exciting things for me is the coming of Burn as print publisher…

    Burn01 was just the beginning…yes, now comes 02 and Yakuza and Rio and JUKE(being shot this week in blues country) and we will certainly be looking very very carefully at the work of our readers here in connection with publishing their work…for me this would be the most fun of all…to build a print library of Burn books…

    you have always been a very loyal Burn reader Jim….yea, you rub some the wrong way..sometimes me too…but i have always supported your voice whether i agreed with it or not…you are a good man with a big heart…no amount of “gruff” can cover that up…thanks for being here…..

    BOB BLACK

    loved what i saw on FB from “loomings”…..don’t put it all THERE amigo….save some for HERE….waiting

    cheers, david

  • Thank you all…6am in Texas…i want to say a “few” things about my meeting with mr.Soth!
    but before i do this, anyone want to see more portraits of Alec? raise hands! i think David or Alec wont have any problem if i show some more portraits, right?
    Again, good morning all…

  • a big truth about Alec: that he is a down-to-earth, straight up, good guy and very ‘simple’ in the clarity of his thinking (intelligent, witty, precise) but in his gentle, nice person
    ————————————————————-

    Bob, nooooooooooobody could have said it, stated it better than u…yes u summed it all up…!!!

  • ok….smiling..gimme 1 minute:)

  • Haha! Number four is great!

  • DAVID :)))

    no worries, you will get EVERYTHING, since that essay was started last summer for YOU/BURN, an exclusive…only put up 3 over the last few months (i think u saw the other 2 + last night) but as i told Marina last night, no more there, don’t worry…wanted to show oli what i’ve been toiling with…but, i’m afraid it’s a long essay again ;))…will write u tonight….

    off to teach :)

    hugs
    b

  • PANOS :)))))

    love the pics brother….but the one David has chosen here for the post IS THE ONE! :))))))))))…glad you guys are chilling and traveling :))

    big hugs :)))

    ok, now i’m late…gotta fly!

    :))

  • Thank god Alec convinced David to blog :))))).

  • the one David has chosen here for the post IS THE ONE! :))))))))))
    ————————————

    true, it represents (in a way) Alec’s new Roadtrip ….btw, that was the very photo i shot…Alec also liked that little street (next to a bike-shop, looking for bikes)…Alec had no problem to be photographed…the only thing he asked me was: “tell me how to pose my hands?”
    and all i said “I dont know, do something..you’re the magnum guy..help the brotha out:)))))))

  • Panos: I like the shot very much, and think of it as a portrait of a teacher by his student, but also – given the cycling stuff – a portrait of a student by his teacher! (I’ll view your others later.) Two gunslingers at high noon, set on a challenge – yum!

    Wonderful interview, David; thanks. As Bob states it catches Alec. To me, he is an interesting set of contradictions – not sitting in opposition, more alongside one another. He is direct and laconic; desirous of stating his point, and wanting to be somewhere else all at the same the time. I had the pleasure of sitting in on two lectures of his in Toronto last year (Contact, Magenta – Toronto), and really appreciated his approach to time itself…if that makes any sense. I’ve learnt much at his knee, and believe he embodies large format!

    What a great dialogue going on in this conversation; a lot to ponder and consider. Must re-read later.

  • Two gunslingers at high noon, set on a challenge
    ———————————–
    damn, amazing………..you are right..Alec looks like a “far west” cowboy figure…Ready to pull the gun and shoot…challenge!…Jeff, you are brilliant!!!!

  • The pic up here is Soth.. pic number 7 is Skoulidas!

  • Nice one DAH, always good to hear informal snippets of conversations with professional photographers, it puts into light the problems, remedies and paths everyone faces in the photography world. Very reassuring for us all. Also reassuring that copying business models is not an issue but just a different business model that might work.

    On the subject of interviews there is a selection over at the Association of photographers http://awards.the-aop.org/PA_Watch_the_Judges

    cheers

    all

  • Panos ………. really good potrait //////////// although to be nonest i was expecting somethin in a restroom ……. or may b in parking lot shot @ lik 3 in mornin kinda stuff ……….

  • number 7? The ice cream lady turned the sign “OPEN” on for us…very hospitable the people of San Antonio, very warm, very nice….!

  • i was expecting somethin in a restroom …….
    —————–
    damn, i should have called u ;)!

  • In the first of a series of trips around America, five Magnum photographers and one writer will be travelling from San Antonio to Oakland from May 12-26, 2011. Follow Christopher Anderson, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky & Ginger Strand on this unique documentary experiment: Postcards From America.

    http://postcards.magnumphotos.com/

  • a civilian-mass audience

    I like them all…
    BUT cause I am a happy civilian…I love N6…!
    I see …”Happy eyes”
    if you check …he looks real.
    I don’t know the guy BUT yes,yes,he looks “real”!
    I can connect…
    and according to MR.HARVEY…he is “kinda responsible” for BURN
    therefore

    MR.ALEC SOTH…we Love you…!!!

  • Hmm, maybe I should buy a printer…on the other hand, no one is interested in my prints, so what would be the point? Having decided that, it’s off to buy granola bars and vodka.

  • on the other hand, no one is interested in my prints, so what would be the point?
    ————————————–
    most “retarded” comment ever..(i love it;)

  • a civilian-mass audience

    AKAKY…let’s collaborate…
    I like your prints…but I like granola bars and vodka too…
    PANOS…did you eat ice-cream? did you?

  • i did, but way later…around midnight…

  • Akaky

    Akaky
    We’d love to see some of your pictures. I’m hoping they are as quirky as your humour.

    It has occured to me that I’m already copying Alec re: eggs in baskets. I’m sharing some of my studio space to another photog, and will be renting out the storage shed behind the studio to the coffee shop down the road for their bean roaster. Gotta make a buck where you can.

  • cheers for that..

    that really interesting..
    a simple good chat is a refreshing way to interact and interview..
    less of the “heros”
    more of the humans..
    now..
    how to get the rest of the photo industry down-to-earth… ?

    reminds me of meeting up in london on the AGM sunday, david, before i flew back to croatia..
    and makes me want to catch up on skype soon..

    chips
    david

  • a civilian-mass audience

    hmmm…I think ALEC ( Alekos from Alexandros)is Greek…:)
    he looks like Pericles…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pericles
    hmmm…

  • a civilian-mass audience
  • Yeah the biz side just ruins everything doesn’t it. I mean, I always got into things for the passion of them, and then it becomes maintenance. I hate maintenance. Sucks the wonder. Kills the spark. “To maintain” is the opposite of “to create.” So much of life is maintenance, but LIFE isn’t about maintenance, or is it, but regardless, why choose to do more? Which reminds me, mortgage is due today, last day. Shit.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    TOM HYDEEEEEEEEE…miss you bro!!!

  • a civilian-mass audience
  • Great post (interview)! and the picture thanks to Panos. You moved from LA to the lands of Ginobili… don’t missed the sunset and see???

    [it]That’s a little bit different. I mean, Little Brown Mushroom is about having fun. So, and, Big Al’s is, well, who knows what it is, it’s about we’ve got some equipment lets use it. Little Brown Mushroom is about having fun, and making cool things. And it’s not about the art world, it’s not about getting caught up in that, it’s not about trying to make money, and if it makes money fine, if not that’s ok, you know, I just want to break even ideally. But it’s about that spirit of when you’re a teenager and you’re just making stuff because you love it. It’s just remembering that feeling you know. When you get caught up in the professionalism of everything, you can forget about it. [/it]

    So DAH is leaving THE boat on June? Buah! Buah! (crying).

    Cheers to all! spring time is coming.
    P.

  • Oops

    Great post (interview)! and the picture thanks to Panos. You moved from LA to the lands of Ginobili… don’t missed the sunset and see???


    That’s a little bit different. I mean, Little Brown Mushroom is about having fun. So, and, Big Al’s is, well, who knows what it is, it’s about we’ve got some equipment lets use it. Little Brown Mushroom is about having fun, and making cool things. And it’s not about the art world, it’s not about getting caught up in that, it’s not about trying to make money, and if it makes money fine, if not that’s ok, you know, I just want to break even ideally. But it’s about that spirit of when you’re a teenager and you’re just making stuff because you love it. It’s just remembering that feeling you know. When you get caught up in the professionalism of everything, you can forget about it.

    About having fun and thinking beyond! That’s the core of photgraphy!

    So DAH is leaving THE boat on June? Buah! Buah! (crying).

    Cheers to all! spring time is coming.

    Viva Burn!
    P.

  • I just came here from LA and returning to LA after the weekend…and yes, i did get a Ginobili jersey;),
    but its too early for me to cheat on Kobe regardless if he cheated on Vanessa etc…thank u …big hug!
    westsiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!

  • but honestly pAtRiCiO, i do like to be here permanently after the summer or something! the people here are very good, no traffic and many pretty girls too;)

  • a civilian-mass audience

    part of the ship
    part of the crew
    part of the ship
    part of the crew

    Pirate’s life for YOU…yo,ho,yoho!!!

  • DAH’s leaving in June? Yes.. but but but.. I see some booktitles up there.. Yakuza, Rio, JUKE.. and others to come.. so more than leaving leaving it’s shifting.. expanding.. evolving…exploding..

  • … to “play,” like a child, or a teenager, is to dream without limit, and without the “benefit” of experience that would tell us to do otherwise.

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