The large-scale images in “Dog Days, Bogotá,” now on display at the Weinstein Gallery in South Minneapolis, pose innocent and conflicting questions: Have you seen this imperfect world so perfect in its randomness? Have you seen the way dogs appear from chicken eggs? Have you seen an unwound animal balloon that, like its human counterparts, floats in loneliness? Have you seen how strangely but beautifully these people on Earth live?
Minneapolis photographer Alec Soth shot the series five years ago during a stay in Bogotá, Colombia, where he and his wife adopted their daughter Carmen. Her birth mother had created a book of photographs for Carmen, inscribing it with this moving message: “I hope that the hardness of the world will not hurt your sensitivity. When I think of you, I hope your life is full of beautiful things.”
The note inspired Soth to document the city for his daughter, both as a means of giving her a history and finding it himself. You can view his photographs here.
The almost ghostly images are rendered like memories that have been erased around the edges by time.
Dog as metaphor
Soth uses dogs as a metaphor for loneliness and abandonment. In “02” (the photographs are only numbered, adding to their simultaneously random and structured qualities), a stray dog appears on the edge of a mountaintop overlooking the city. The city is obscured by a thick haze the color of cobwebs. It’s distant, but oddly beautiful wrapped in its shroud.
In “40,” a German shepherd rests on a barred windowsill. A blooming rosebush creeps into the photo’s edges. While isolation is the theme here, perfection also plays a role: The image is so keenly balanced, with lines from the window bars connecting to the crisscross patterns in the bricks. And in its order, something deeper is revealed: Loneliness, too, has its own universal framework.
On Soth’s trip to discover his daughter’s origin and history, he stumbled upon images as disquieting as they are tender: a chicken on a discarded, ramshackle chair with ruination as its backdrop; a girl with melancholy eyes clutching a doll on a mountaintop, the trees behind her the color of volcanic ash; and, one of my favorites, a puppy standing bewildered and afraid in the ruins of a cracked egg.
Even if Soth set up many of his visual narratives, he did so as an artist capturing those indelible moments when reality is neither here nor there, but everything in between. In the process, he documents the place of his daughter’s birth and gives her a lasting legacy.
What: Alec Soth’s “Dog Days, Bogotá”
When: Now through Jan. 12, noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Where: Weinstein Gallery, 908 W. 46th St., Minneapolis
Book signing: Alec Soth will autograph his book, “Dog Days, Bogotá,” at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Minnesota Center for Photography (MCP), 165 13th Ave. N.E., Minneapolis. Currently, MCP is the only location in the country where the book will be available.