I have to confess that viewing ‘Broken Manual’, the new work by Alec Soth ‘online, I was unimpressed. They seemed to me to be a rather less successful versions of his series ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’
A visit to the Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea to see them in person made me realize how wrong I was.
Soth’s work features those who have decided to live off the grid; be they hermits, loners or survivalists.
A documentary ‘Somewhere to disappear’, which accompanies the exhibit, shows Soth driving around the country in pursuit of these outsiders. The people he finds are a motley crew. One man lives alone in a cave with just a dog and his gun for company, another lives in the desert and calls himself ‘God’. Yet another hides out in a home with boarded up windows waiting for the government to come and get him.
As Soth uncovers these men (and they are all men) he reveals a suffocating paranoia evidenced by one man’s collection of books and videos featuring titles like ‘Imminent Military takeover of the US’, ‘Waco: the rules of engagement’, ‘Avoiding Armageddon’ and most tellingly ‘How to Disappear and Never be Found”
These artifacts become a display in one room of the exhibition and they tell of the palpable sense of unease that inhabits the photos themselves.
Many of the images show these alienated individuals disappearing into the landscape, almost willing themselves to vanish from the face of the earth.
It’s almost as if these men are an embodiment of a future America, losing its power and sense of self. Maybe ‘Broken Manual’ is not merely a document but also a prophecy?