Review: The Auckland Project by John Gossage and Alec Soth


Book Reviews, Photobooks




“Working alongside John [Gossage] was stressful, but it was also life changing. After learning so much from this master of the medium (and friend), I began the process of dismantling my career.” write Alec Soth about his contribution to The Auckland Project. The book, or rather set of books, was “a trip of departures. Gossage has been working in black and white for over 40 years, and this trip yielded one of the first bodies of work he had ever produced in color.” (quoted from the press blurb) Soth, in turn, left behind his 8x10 camera, to bring a digital one. Since I have been ignoring discussions of cameras on this blog for years now, I’ll continue doing that for this review. Instead, I want to talk about the two photographers’ approach to photography - I do believe the books offer an opportunity to do that. (more)

If anything, for me The Auckland Project reflects the differences in these two photographers’ approaches to photography. One, John Gossage, is only too happy to walk around with his camera, looking for (and finding!) chance moments to take photographs of. The other, Alec Soth, essentially is most comfortable doing the exact opposite: Having a plan, or at least a list of things to look for. So one, Gossage, is fine, and shooting in colour essentially makes no difference whatsoever. The other one, Soth, ends up dismantling his career. Now that might be too simple a view. Of course, I don’t know what went on in New Zealand. I only have the words on the blog and this set of books.

Soth’s book is a cover with a pouch that contains a poster. I’ve always wondered why photographers don’t just print posters (affordable posters - large gallery prints essentially are very expensive posters in a frame), and now I know: It’s an awkward format. I used to hang posters on my walls when I was much younger, but I don’t do it any longer. Which leaves me with handling the poster - an oversized piece of paper, which has a front - one photograph - and a back, a short story of sorts of how Soth got to take the photograph on the front (see images): essentially a variant of The most beautiful woman in Georgia. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with playing with formats of books. But at times, the format of a book might get in the way of the photography or the story, and for me this is such a case.

Gossage’s book, in contrast, is, well, a regular photobook. I’ll have to admit that I’m pretty amazed how many great images the photographer found while simply walking around. Entitled An Easy Guide to the Southern Stars (A Number of Photographs), it starts of with the photograph of a star (plus the invitation vade mecum - Latin for “come [or go] with me”; unfortunately, Germans and other Europeans might mistaken it for a brand of toothpaste - leave it consumerism to use and abuse pretty much anything). It then wanders off into Gossage’s photographic world, a world filled with little details, many of them mundane and besides what most people would notice. It’s pretty amazing. Unfortunately, the edit could have been a bit tighter. As much as I enjoy so many of the images, I inevitably find myself speeding through them near the end - it’s just too much. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. You’d imagine that given I’m too old for a poster, I’d have the patience to look at the around 100 photographs. But it’s not a question of patience at all. It’s a question of focus - the book’s, not my own.

The Auckland Project is a lavish production. I wish all photobooks were produced like this one, with this much attention to detail. It is a mixed bag, though, for the reasons I mentioned above. Needless to say, your mileage may vary.

The Auckland Project, photographs by John Gossage and Alec Soth, Radius Books, 2012