The Process

In Which An Artist Discusses Making A Particular Work

Alec Soth and Brad Zellar, Three Valleys

Through the lens of Twin Cities photographer Alec Soth, newlyweds, oilmen, homeless kids, and others become kings and queens of the everyday. His images could pass for stills from a Terrence Malick film, which is a pretentious way of saying that they’re bittersweet and cinematic and offer no easy answers. Galleries and museums like him. So does the New York Times Magazine, which frequently taps him for features. In 2011, he and his friend Brad Zellar—a writer whose book of found photos of 1960s suburbia partly inspired the Coen brothers’ film A Serious Man—started a conceptual newspaper called the LBM Dispatch, published by Soth’s Little Brown Mushroom Press. Here, they discuss the Three Valleys edition, which chronicles a trip they took to the Silicon, Death, and San Joaquin valleys last spring.

—Chris Clayton

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THE BELIEVER: The novelist Richard Ford has praised the LBM Dispatch, comparing it to the collaborations of Walker Evans and James Agee. How do you characterize the project?

ALEC SOTH: It’s two guys out driving around, engaging with the world. Engaging with the real world is a form of journalism that is increasingly rare—and in that sense we’re doing a kind of journalism. But we’re not constrained by any traditional boundaries. There’s a whimsy to it—it just goes where it wants to go, which is in the spirit of road photography.

BRAD ZELLAR: It’s a twenty-first-century snapshot of American culture and regional life. That’s kind of our model, but again, sometimes we create more of a mythical and dreamy feel and other times we tell the straight story. Three Valleys is sort of a combination of the two.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Chris Clayton’s nonfictional words have appeared in Outside, Men’s Health, a gaggle of city magazines, and a murder of alt-weeklies. Because he’s from the Twin Cities, he feels obligated to share his favorite Prince song: “The Beautiful Ones.” Purple Rain forever.

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