Minnesota Fashion

Think Paris, and you think Fashion. Think Minnesota and I guess my mind is pretty blank. Maybe gophers or lakes? Actually my mind is pretty blank about gophers too, though I think they are some kind of burrowing rat, and in the primitive days of the Internet (around 1991), courtesy of the University of Minnesota, the gopher protocol used to burrow for information for us before web sites existed. Lakes I can understand, although around here they are largely a cheap way of abandoning sand and gravel sites, but in Minnesota, wilderness.

Of course I’m unfair. The twin cities have a long artistic tradition, and Alec Soth is one of my favourites among his generation of photographers. There is even a French connection, in the state motto “L’√Čtoile du Nord“, and it does after all have a border with Canada.

Even so, a straightforward fashion show of images by Alec Soth would perhaps be less than overwhelming, but his actual work for the thick glossy magazine ‘Paris Minnesota‘ is fascinating. This is the third of Magnum‘s annual “fashion magazines” where every image – fashion, editorial and advertising – is by a single photographer (previous issues were by Martin Parr and Bruce Gilden) and although these were interesting this looks like being the best to date. Due in a month or so, it is a publication that will become a collector’s item, and signed copies are available too at a relatively small extra cost – so you are advised to pre-order now if you want one.
Soth’s work gains from his realisation that he isn’t really a fashion photographer. As he says “I’m not really comfortable saying I know anything about Paris or its fashion world. And I suspect that most fashionable Parisians know just as little about Minnesota. What is interesting is the space between us.” He found it difficult to work with fashion models who themselves have such a clear idea of how they should look, composing themselves for the camera. Of course his pictures of them are of interest, and he learnt to work much faster than before with his 8×10 camera, sometimes managing to capture something of them before they had retreated into their glossy shells. But perhaps of most interest are the highly detailed advertising images taken in Minnesota, where part of the game is in the search for the actual product, which Jim Casper describes in his LensCulture feature on the Paris opening.

This is an approach that I think we may see setting a trend. So look out for work in the fashion magazines over the next year or so where the product takes some finding. I don’t think these are likely to be taken in Minnesota, but more likely in edgier high energy city settings such as Peckham, Moss Side or in the hotter parts of the banlieue.

The best places to see more about Soth are Magnum and his own web site, and in particular his blog, which has some other links to articles on Paris Minnesota and to pictures of the opening.

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