Saturday, February 26, 2011

photo book review: Carmen Soth, The Brighton Bunny Boy

Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.
Here is this week's literally eleventh-hour (twenty-third hour if you keep military time) photo book review, brought to you by the pile of photo books I bought last month.

Last year Magnum photographer Alec Soth was commissioned to work for the Brighton Photo Biennial. But due to a last minute snaggle he was unable to get a work visa in time. At a loss to deliver what was asked of him, on the fly he enlisted his then seven-year old daughter Carmen to photograph what she saw in Brighton. This young woman has now produced two books based on that experience under the auspices of her father, and although in some ways less ambitious than Brighton Picture Hunt,  The Brighton Bunny Boy (Little Brown Mushroom), a collaboration among Carmen, Alec, and Gus Soth,  remarkably conveys both the innocence and anxiety of childhood.

Soth pere recently explained to the New York Times, for whom he occasionally blogs that there are wall photographers and there are book photographers, and he considered himself squarely in the company of the latter. I wouldn’t tell anybody not to see a Soth gallery show, but I would tell you to run and find one of his excellent books, from his landmark debut Sleeping by the Mississippi (of which I am fortunate to own the much-sought after first edition - and signed at that!) to the tabloid style newsprint edition The Last Days of W.

He has passed on his gift for the photography book to his daughter, who supplies the kind of openness and imagination that most of us unfortunately grow out of. The Brighton Bunny Boy incorporates Carmen Soth’s text and illustrations with her father's photos of an elusive boy (played by brother Gus) who mysteriously hides in a bunny costume. Such alienation is often seen in her father’s work but I all too well remember that childhood alienation, different from that of adulthood but no less acute, and Soth adresses one of the painful dilemmas of growing up: how to find and assert your identity in the greater society. In the span of eighteen zine-sized pages, a brief but not at all minor drama plays out with character development and resolution. The book is cute and unsettling, a winning combination. May the Soth family continue their monographic winning streak for generations to come.

Also recently reviewed: the new Criterion DVD editions of Sweet Smell of Success and Luchino Visconti's rarely seen Senso for Blogcritics. This post was brought to you by the letter S.

Update: The Seattle Post Intelligencer syndicates Blogcritics content, and Alec Soth just linked to the review from the Little Brown Mushroom blog with the clarification that Carmen took all the photos as well. Yay Carmen!

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