Critics’ Picks

Untitled 26, Bogotá (Girl with doll), 2002, color photograph, 20 x 20".

Berlin

Alec Soth

Wohnmaschine
Tucholskystr. 35
May 16 - June 28

When Alec Soth and his wife adopted their daughter, Carmen, from Bogotá, Colombia, the infant’s birth mother entrusted them with a book of photographs of Carmen’s birthplace, inscribed with the message I HOPE THAT THE HARDEST OF THE WORLD WILL NOT HURT YOUR SENSITIVITIES. According to the wall text accompanying “Dog Days, Bogotá,” Soth’s third solo exhibition at this gallery, the photographer was inspired by this gesture to create his own book of photographs for Carmen. Taken during the two months he spent in Bogotá while waiting for the adoption to be approved, the twenty-one images on view depict people in their ramshackle homes, dogs on the street, shards of glass and china affixed to the top of a wall, and other glimpses of genuine poverty. In one shot, a gray sky presses down on a gray stone wall; a crumbling hole reveals a tree heavy with lush pink blossoms. “In photographing the city of her birth,” Soth notes, “I hope I’ve described some of the beauty in this hard place.”

But the beauty in Soth’s imagery is rarely obvious. Gritty, grimy, and dreary, the Minnesota-born Magnum associate photographer’s previous images of the eccentric inhabitants of depressed and depressing small towns have earned him a reputation as America’s answer to Martin Parr and Richard Billingham. These earlier series remain unsettlingly ambiguous, whether he is photographing the Minnesota working class or international high-fashion figures. But “Dog Days, Bogotá” resonates instead as a touchingly optimistic reminder of a place neither Soth’s daughter nor Soth himself should forget.