A NEW LOW
Photographs by Scot Sothern
Exhibition August 3 – 31, 2013
Artist Reception Saturday August 3, 7-10 pm
“Scot Sothern has taken his camera into a world that only a microscopic fraction of the human population knows exists. Sothern is not a mere voyeur, he wades deeply into zones most never will and renders his subjects with dignity and compassion. Lowlife is a moving and compelling piece of work.” – Henry Rollins
“This work is graphic and immediately raw. It is cynical and dangerous and says so much in such condensed landscape.” – Los Angeles Times
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Horror Sleaze and Trash catch up for a conversation ahead of his new show.
HST: Your Bi Monthly articles for Vice magazine, “Nocturnal Submissions”, are your textual recounts behind the photo experience of the prostitutes that will feature in your coming exhibit. Any of these ladies stories ever really touch you, like hit you in a hard spot, or is it the age old “man behind the camera” distance. Like a war photographer distancing himself from death by keeping it from mind?
SS: It’s the photographs that hit me, more than the stories or the experience. When I’m right there, making the exposure, I’m not victim to the agony of the subjects, but I can look at an image of my making a day, or years, later and feel it like it’s a bad dream. It’s kind of like watching a stripper dancing under red lights, you know, she might be the goddess of hard-ons, but when you get her home, under the white light, you can see the stretch marks, the abscesses, the hard lines in her face, and the void in her eyes. That’s when she becomes real and that’s what the pictures do.
Also, along with the photographs that haunt me, there are photographs that were fun to make and whores who were a delight to hang out with for a little while. That’s not to say they are having a good time being street whores, but maybe they had a better time posing for my impromptu photo shot than getting gullet-fucked by some shithead with poor hygiene.
HST: The intro to your gallery (don’t know who wrote it) exclaims “He wanders through these stunningly bleak tableaus like some despondent prophet. And inside of it all we see our mothers, lovers, sisters, daughters.” How dangerous are these streets? Have you ever been in a position you thought the shit might really hit the fan?
SS: I’ve been mugged a couple of times and had a few minor altercations, but that was in the 1980s. More recently, with the New Low pictures, I’ve had to contend with street lunatics off their meds, but they’re not all that scary, and I can use my cane like a baseball bat as a deterrent. Mostly, nobody bothers me and I make a point of not pissing people off. Quite honestly I think you can blend in anywhere as long as you’re polite and don’t bring an attitude. Whores and drug dealers don’t have any reason to fuck with me, you know. Violence is bad for business and I’m just an old white guy who walks with a cane and drives a four-door Scion. War photographers are the ones who face real danger, nobody’s throwing bullets at me.
HST: You have had forty years on the hustle behind the camera. How do you keep the desire to create alive, especially seeing the grit and guts you see through the lens.
SS: I do it because I don’t know how to do anything else, I can write and I can make photographs. The gritty lives and situations I see in the viewfinder are often invisible to those who have so much more and I think it’s something people need to see. For me, there have been periods of rejection and no money and I tried other jobs and other lives, you know, but just couldn’t make it work. I think much of my creative motivation comes from an inherent anger with the truly fucked-up society we live in. I’m a baby boomer who came of age in the sixties and never shook off the beatnik ideals and scofflaw ethics. I was born with a nasty streak of nonconformity. I just do what I do and can’t really turn it off.
HST: I’m waiting on a copy of your new book, “Curb Service”, which Dan Fante described as “…the real thing.” Is writing a different creative process from photography; I mean in the sense that you are capturing a moment in a still, where as with the writing you are giving it life beyond the viewers limited (or should I say unlimited) perception. How do you feel about that, is there a difference?
SS: My father was a photographer and I began working in his studio when I was ten and I had to stand on a chair to reach the darkroom trays. It’s something I’ve always done and something that always came easy to me. Writing is more difficult, I was rebellious and a poor student in school and never went to college so I’m autodidactic. I also tend to get easily distracted, so just applying my ass to the desk chair and writing a paragraph or two can be a lengthy process.
I do believe there is a big difference between the photographs alone and with the text. I think a photograph needs to stand on its own and never depend on a story, a caption, or even a title. If it doesn’t then it should be shit-canned and no amount of writing will make it a better image. If I have a photograph that can bring a gasp out of the viewer then I can write about it. The writing doesn’t change the meaning of the photograph but makes it more personal, the viewer can climb into the picture and become a part of it. It becomes an experience.
HST: You have said “I was high on drugs, it was recommended for this situation.” How much are drugs a factor in infiltrating the sub terrain, the guts of the gutters?
SS: I’ve never really put the two together, one was never dependent of the other. Nowadays I just take my prescription narcotics for pain and smoke pot. I never really had a bad experience with drugs but probably shouldn’t be recommending them. It’s been a few years since I did anything nasty and dangerous but, you know, I’m sixty-four, there are any number of things I don’t do anymore.
HST: Just out of curiosity, what do you think of Korines work, more specifically his new film “Springbreakers”
SS: I was a fan of Larry Clark’s so I saw Kids in the theater when it came out and I liked it. I saw Gummo with my son, who was in high school at the time, and I think there were only three or four other people in the theater. We both loved it a lot. I also loved Julien Donkey Boy. I’m not a fan of Trash Humpers but it has its moments. I hated Mister Lonely but had a good time watching Spring Breakers. It’s more polished than his other movies but I think a change in direction is a good thing for anyone in the arts.
HST: Do you believe in a God Scot?
SS: Absolutely not.