In: Niagara

Rebecca from Alec Soth’s series Niagara, 2005
June 9, 2021

Alec Soth, Rebecca, from the series Niagara, 2005

Soth’s images from his Niagara series are contradictions, and though he employs Niagara, N.Y., it might as well be Niagara Falls, ON, as I see the latter, familiar to me both as a child and adult, as well. There’s the obligatory tourist shots of the Falls, but these seem like fanciful ideals when contrasted with the motel facades and the people he captures, which are grittier. This is the real Niagara I know: a site that seems darker than the postcards, or a honeymoon long since gone stale. These are scenes that have much in common with films like Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019), Niagara Falls (1953)  or Falling Angels (2003) – in that last, it looms in the subtext, only seen near the end, but a site of death, perhaps accidental, perhaps intentional. Soth’s people and places might be illustrations for Cataract City (2013), a tale of desperation also about a place that has a thin shiny veneer, already worn and flaking before we even scratch at it further. 

A final note: a contemporary photographer in Niagara is offering what might be considered an update on Soth’s vision. Jon Lepp’s The Official Open for Business Series is like checking in, on Soth’s Niagara, and the irony of the title is appropriately bleak, like the world of Soth’s Rebecca, that her child also now inhabits.~ Bart Gazzola

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