Alec Soth “Gathered leaves” photography exhibition review



The OCA study day on 23rd January, 2016, was organised and run by Helen Warburton & had 15 students attending.

The exhibition was hosted by The Science Museum, London.

The curator was Kate Bush.

The location: London = very far to travel from Torbay requiring overnight stays.  The media space of the museum had 2 photo exhibitions: Soth & Julia Margaret Cameron = 2 bodies of work curated very differently which left me with more questions regarding curatorship.  It didn’t help that whereas Soth’s work was very new to me, Cameron’s was known and, therefore, I felt that I had not gained much from it.

The setting: Soth’s = spacious & airy & it allowed the curator to experiment with how she displayed the very different 4 bodies of work which I felt added to the appreciation of the work.

The atmosphere: space allowed you to see the images as you wished.  I had a broken ankle & so went around in a wheel chair which was the best way because I did not get tired standing in front of so much work.  I could not see what was in the vitrines unless I stood up but children could not see Sorh’s process displayed in his sketch books.IMG_1076.jpg





Three good things about the exhibition setting, location & atmosphere:

  • It was good to have the time and the space in which to see the images.
  • the frequent breaks allowed us to exchange ideas about what we felt.
  • It was good to have the talk by the curator who had insights into Soth’s work and the science museum’s practices.

One thing I wish had been different: The curator was very softly spoken & few of us could hear what she was saying.

Examples of the work I found most meaningful to me:

Cape Girardeau, Missouri, from Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004)
The hermit from Broken Manual (2010)     
From Broken Manual (2010)


  • To see how the atmosphere in an exhibition, created by lighting, framing and use of paint, can affect how you perceive the work.
  • Seeing letters from lovers in the Niagara (2006) had been photographed, mounted & framed & displayed as an image.
  • Use of tilt lens in the image above in Broken Manual to have 3 different focus points: not on a plane parallel to the sensor / negative.
  • Seeing how he used his sketch books & freely exhibited them for the benefit of others.
  • The use of the river as a metaphor to express personal dreams – whether realised or not – transporting the viewers, Huckleberry Finn style, in to their own dreams and journeys.
  • The variety and size of the images affected how I saw the different bodies of work.
  • Possibilities of using someone else to reflect an autobiographical work such as Broken Manual.

What I took away with me (about the work, about me)

About the work:

  •  How the different bodies of work were curated affected how I saw them.
  • Using images of not just people or place or people in place, such as love letters, contributes greatly to a body of work.
  • The importance of networking & use of social media to inspire and promote your work.
  • Use of books to allow an audience to take the work beyond the exhibition – although I would rather buy a catalogue of an exhibition rather than any book by the same photographer.

About me:

  •  Experiment with different forms of media in my bodies of work.
  • Start using sketchbooks to develop ideas.
  • Experiment with focus stacking to achieve the same effect – drawing the viewers’ attention to leitmotifs in a body of work or within a specific image.
  • Develop the possibility of  autobiographical expression in images.


  • Reflect on leitmotivs in my work.
  • Record the everyday to see what emerges.
  • Read “The Open Road” by Aperture: to see the history of the journey in photography.


  • Get a sketchbook.

Star rating for the exhibition: 5*



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