Magnum photographer Alec Soth first came to prominence with Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004) in which he followed said river with camera and took photos on his way. The resulting images hint at stories but together create a poetic collection verging on a constructed folklore. However, it Soth’s NIAGARA (2006) that attracts my interest in this post because of the way Soth approached one of North America’s most cliche’d tourist sites.
Those that have been to Niagara Falls could not fail to be impressed by their natural beauty and immense power which is why it first developed into a tourist site, particularly in the late 19th century when it was advertised as a honeymoon site by the New York Central Railroad. Its development as a tourist site has fallen into every cliche since then as fun parks, fireworks and neon lights abound, but fundamentally it remains a site that still arouses and reflects romantic urges and passions. Soth’s NIAGARA took on this very subject, photographing the landscapes and people associated with its status as a honeymoon capital.
Soth’s approach is part documentary, but peculiarly enough part poetry as he is known for spending a considerable amount of time setting up shots in order to ensure that the resulting images are the ones he wants, because for Soth photography is a medium of personal expression. NIAGARA challenges the (negative) assumptions we have about Niagara Falls and the people that choose to marry or honeymoon there. Amid some of the most spectacular natural and worst man-made landscapes on the plant, Soth humanises the site and explores the emotional intensity which drives couples toward Niagara.
Although Chris’s work at the Tower would appear quite different from Soth’s there are some striking similarities. Both overlook the obvious for a subtle and deeper connection between man and landscape, both have chosen to work in tourist sites and both prefer a more considered and poetic approach to their composition, but we’ll have to wait and see if these similarities are apparent in Chris’s final edit.