10 Images That Inspired Photographer Alec Soth Throughout His Career

Alec Soth is one of the most successful photographers of our time. We asked him about 10 images that inspired his career.

The photographer Alec Soth is a household name — or he should be. His photographs have been turned into books, shown at the world’s best galleries, and are in countless museum collections. Based in Minneapolis, Soth’s images are often of eccentric, beautiful, and fascinating strangers that he encounters in his travels across the US. Soth himself is nothing if not thoughtful. He gets permission from the people he photographs, and at times it’s as if you can see their previous conversation hanging in the air of the photos he makes with them. Unsurprisingly, he has also been thoughtful about others' photography. When we asked him for 10 images that inspired him and his photography career, he came back with a fantastic list that includes images from a lesser-known college photographer to Stephen Shore, Dorothea Lange, and August Sander.

"Breakfast, Trail's End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973" by Stephen Shore

pancakes a melon coffee and juice at a restaurant

"Shore’s first book, Uncommon Places, changed how I saw the world. But it was this picture of his pancakes that made me want to hit the road and see it for myself."

“Dad on Bed” by Larry Sultan

a man in a suit sitting on a bed at home

"Larry Sultan’s book Pictures From Home is my single favorite photobook combining text and images. In the text about his parents, he talks about the limitations of photography. But his photographs are all about the medium’s possibilities."

"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange

a mother holds her hand to her face in the depression era as two children hide their faces on her

"In my twenties I spent seven years working in an art museum. When digital technology came along, my job was to scan images from the collection. It was during this time that I realized that the most famous photograph in the world had all sorts of technical flaws. But these flaws, and the image’s omnipresence, haven’t taken away from its impact on me."

Country Girls,” August Sander

Years ago my gallerist offered me my choice of a modern August Sander print. I chose his most famous image of the three young men. As much as I love it, I wish I’d chosen this picture for its breathtaking tenderness.

"Treadwell," by Andrea Modica

two young girls sit with adults who are cropped out of the frame, whose arms extend down to touch the girls

"Mixing classicism, narrative, and gut-wrenching beauty, Modica’s 'Treadwell' showed me the enormous range that is possible in photography."

"The Buzz Club," by Rineke Dijkstra

"One of our greatest living photographers also made one of the greatest works of video art. Every frame of this video is an exceptional portrait."

"Eddie," c. 1948, by Louie Faurer

a man holds flowers, a newspaper and a tote bag and looks away from the camera

"Probably my favorite single image of all time."

"Nan’s Bedroom, 2018 by Alec Soth

a bed with pillows and teddy bears and two framed photos of a man and a woman above it

"A few years ago I walked into the bedroom of one of my favorite photographers, Nan Goldin, and saw work on the walls of another of my favorite photographers, Peter Hujar."

The Most Beautiful Suicide” by Robert C. Wiles

"I only remember one photobook in my childhood home: The Best of Life from 1973. Growing up in a sheltered exurban Minnesota, that was the first place I saw both breasts and dead bodies. Robert C. Wiles’ elegant suicide victim haunts me to this day."

Gregory Watching the Snow Fall” by David Hockney

"I originally wanted to be a painter. So it took a great painter to teach me the possibilities of photography. Hockey’s photocollage was simultaneously about seeing and about intimacy."