first published pictures

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on March 10, 2010

The other day on our Tumblr site I posted a picture I made in 1995. An Italian curator and criminally insane book collector recently told me he owned a book in which this picture was published. This prestigious volume, Minneapolis/St. Paul: Linked to the Future, was published in 1997. I’d love to know about other photographers with similarly humble beginnings.

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  1. little round muskrat said, on March 10, 2010 at 7:27 am

    There is always Ralph Gibson’s

    How to form a rock group

    by Lieber, Leslie, and Gibson, Ralph, and Pliskin, Robert

    Guide to a career or hobby as a rock musician. Follows the achievements of the Forum Quorum who pursued these step-by-step suggestions for buying instruments, rehearsing, auditioning, playing dances, acquiring an agent, making recordings, selecting costumes and a name, and developing showmanship.

  2. Niall McDiarmid said, on March 10, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Hi all,

    Nothing so glamorous as a book for my first work I’m afraid – the local free sheet was where I began.

    I grew up in a very small rural town in the Highlands of Scotland. In the early 90s, just after I had left high school, I began taking photos around the area, mostly as a way to relieve the boredom and as a possible route to somewhere more interesting – ‘Town full of losers, pulling out of here to win’ and all that stuff.

    As it happened the town’s only remaining petrol/gas station was on a drive to expand and had knocked down a small attractive stone cottage on the main street to make way for a large green and yellow sign – one with a large B and a large P in it. Anyway I took a photo of the sign and on reflection thought it looked a little plain. So I knocked off a poem in about five minutes to go with it. (Just recovered from my cellar) This is how it went

    If Only It Were Neon

    From the West they came
    Two ponies, two riders and a dog.
    “This ole house ain’t here no more”
    “The corporation’s spreadin’ from the East”
    “Green and yellow. If only it were neon”
    If only it were neon.

    I sent them off to the local free sheet, Comment, which was run by a newcomer to the area who, on reflection I think, liked to stir things up a bit locally. Anyway they used the picture and the poem big and wow was I pleased with myself – I had stumbled upon a career. (Looking back at the photos and articles I wrote in that first period, they all were mostly inaccurate and probably libellous but it was all fairly innocent stuff. Soon after I dropped the writing bit!)

    On the odd occasion when I go back to the town to visit my family who all still live there, the locals all remember. Even though it was 20 years ago the petrol pump attendants give you a knowing look as you fill up. One of them asked me this past summer – “any photos or poems to go with that!”

    Niall McDiarmid

  3. Alec Soth said, on March 10, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Great story Niall. My first photo job was with the Lillie Suburban Newspaper Chain:

    I’m pretty sure nobody remembers the hundreds of ribbon cutting pictures I made.

  4. hellomynameisart said, on March 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I got the 1998 best of college photography. Me and I think 7000 of the best graduating budding photog’s in the country.

    If you were nominated you got a free book. I was so excited and then when I received the book in the mail my picture was 2 in by 3 in. in the crease and a terrible reproduction at that…way too magenta.

    Oh well, still waiting on my next chance, perhaps a 5×7 next time.


  5. LBM said, on March 10, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Great story Brandon!

  6. Simen said, on March 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I like the pictures, Alec, but who wrote the captions? Pairing “it’s no joke: the men and women in blue do an outstanding job…” with that clown picture was an, uh, interesting idea.

  7. Cosby said, on March 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I once had a full page picture in the magazine “Ray Gun”.
    The picture was for an interview with the Flaming Lips.
    Seems cooler now than it did at the time.
    Flaming Lips were not as as big back then, think it was 1999.

  8. Alec Soth said, on March 10, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Good point Simen. Those captions are scary. And since you are looking closely, did you notice my name back then.

  9. Alec Soth said, on March 10, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Great story, Cosby. My first published picture was actually in City Pages. Maybe 4×5 inches but man, was I proud.

  10. Marc Freidus said, on March 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    One of the more out there gems of my collection is Henry Chung’s Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook (1978) with photographs by Stephen Shore. In today’s fetishizing market it’s probably unfortunate that my copy is autographed by Chung (purchased at his restaurant back in the day) rather than Shore.

  11. mark peterson said, on March 10, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    my first job was at the whittier globe a community newspaper in south minneapolis …they paid me 10 dollars a pix…i was on top of the world…then i moved up to upi who paided me 12.50 a pix…if i moved two pixs a day i was in heaven…and then i got the job as city pages photographer…stayed a few years…sometime i think it the best job i ever had…

  12. Paul Shambroom said, on March 11, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    My first published photo (besides the Mac Weekly, or Wack Meekly as we called it) was the official Minnesota Bicentennial photo competition catalog. Hey Alec- I found out your high school English teacher was my bud and classmate at Macalester. Does that make you young, or me old? (can’t be both…) (Mark- Don’t you mean the SECOND best job you ever had?)

    • mark peterson said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:06 pm

      paul your right i can’t forget the best job i ever had was going arkansas with you

  13. Alec Soth said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Yikes. Which one? I’m praying he doesn’t remember anything about me.

  14. Paul Shambroom said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Frank Eustis (that’s Mr. Eustis to you.) You did go to Breck, yes? I saw him recently for the first time in 20+ years. He didn’t try to take any credit for you, which means something (I’m not sure what…)

  15. Alec Soth said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Okay Paul & Mark, let’s hear the story. Sounds like a little slice of MN photo history.

  16. Paul Shambroom said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I think Las Vegas rules were in effect at the time. For whatever reason I don’t remember much. There were forklifts, really bad Chinese food (surprising for 1980 Arkansas, I know), Confederate flags, a shared hotel room. Maybe all in one crazy evening. I’ve said way too much…..

  17. Alec said, on March 11, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Ah, Mr. Eustis (middle school, me thinks). I was probably studying with him at the exact same time that you and Mark were doing God knows what in your hotel room.

    Mark, please tell me that you took pictures (or Super 8, or whatever you had back then).

  18. mark peterson said, on March 11, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    if there is a film of that trip it would show how bad of an assistant i was…loading film wrong etc…and how gentile paul was with me when we went (to) arkansas…

  19. bob black said, on March 12, 2010 at 6:57 am

    ahhhh, those humble beginnings…

    well, alec, for me, nothing so grand as “Minneapolis/St. Paul: Linked to the Future”….in truth, i think the first published snap were some snaps i made for the highschool senior trip to florida…a cheap point and shoot…my best friend and i slipped away from the class and headed over to Epicot and did a tour-around-the-world of the pubs (we were served) and much to our amusement some of the snaps ended up in the class year book…even though, we were all under the veil of threat of not graduating if ‘anyone attempted to drink at disney’….oh, those golden days…

    much later, in 93 or so, i was working for a small newspaper owned by the NYtimes…Marco Island Eagle (now owned by the Naples daily news)…i was working in the circulation department and also doing some feature writing…our paper had 1 official photographer who also triple-dutied as writer/co-editor/sales staff, etc…well, i was doing some feature writing and the editor (a retired editor from the detroit free press) said, ‘bob, take this camera and take some snaps to go with your story’ (on the performance of a local theatre group to the island (sort of like a small-island version of dinner theatre)…well i wrote the story (front page) took some snaps….when the paper developed the film and the editor was looking at the neg, the editor said, “bob, listen. i know you like art and all that stuff, but we just need a picture of the performance. just aim the camera and shoot. no fancy stuff”…well…that was my introduction to the ‘real’ world of photography…so much for the art stuff ;)))))))))))….

    i occassionally wonder what jack would think now


  20. bob black said, on March 12, 2010 at 8:39 pm


    quick follow up as im about to go silencio for 2 weeks to finish an essay that’ll be published on april 1st, so 2 quick notes:

    1) Andrew from Monkey’s Paw sent me a note: new stock in and hoping you drop in…i’ve hooked him onto your blog…and he enjoys it and would be more than happy to help you fatten Little Brown Mushroom Archive Library….


    2) this is on while your here:

    ok, gotta fly….more later after mid april…


  21. bob black said, on March 12, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    I ment stephen from Monkey’s Paw…sorry, brain dead tonight…


  22. bophoto72 said, on March 16, 2010 at 3:54 am

    late to the party on this post..

    a cd booklet in 1997 for a free-party collective called DIY.. i got 20 quid for the shot of one of them playing a ´reclaim the streets´ protest gig when i began photographing music events as a personal project..

    it led to magazine work which quickly developed and 13 years passed in a flash of planes and trains, potions and dance motions – photographing youth culture worldwide..

    i now live in norway, where i used to work yearly and met my lover Beate at a music festival in 2006.. we have a son – Tor Capa..

    in short it all comes down to this one photo and instance of publishing – the organically developed life which followed..


  23. re: photographica (George) said, on March 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I’ve got that book with Paul’s pictures in it somewhere. Back when he was an amateur, according to the competition labels. It includes a very morose self-portrait of the photographer as bluegrass musician.

    Alec, I remember those early pictures of yours, though not the sheep or the psychic phone. Were you credited as Alec Cartee-Soth in that book?


  24. Dolan said, on March 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Interesting point from Alec about who remember’s the “ribbon cutting” images. Similarly, having had bits and pieces in various local papers and magazines where today it’s news, tomorrow it’s fishwrap, the first real exciting publication was a virtual one! Getting a small mention and a picture on Exposure Compensation as a part of a recent graduates post.

    Don’t get me wrong. It felt great to get anything printed and put out there, but in the digital age, when anyone can put up pretty much anything they want for people to see online, it was exciting that someone else liked the work enough to give it a mention and that it will last as long as the site does, available to view, rather than sitting in a stack of back issues or in a newpaper archive.


  25. Eli Hamann said, on March 30, 2010 at 11:33 am

    My first published photos were printed in the Downtown Journal in ’08. Seeing my photo on the cover of anything would have been incredibly exciting, but the DTJ was everywhere while I attended MCTC. For two weeks I saw my photos constantly, which really inspired me to continue to explore the editorial realm of photography. There has been plenty of thrills since then, but none really compare to the first. I love this blog, keep up the good work.


  26. Whitney said, on April 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I love the juxtaposition of all the elements in this book. Each spread contrast the two featured photographs well. The photograph of the airplane and graveyard next to the photograph of the sheep adds a layer to each photograph that was not there before. Comparing the place where we lay our dead and a flock of sheep together leaves me with a sense of guilt.

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