First let me be specific that my comments are not about Alec Soth in particular but about a general trend I see of extremely boring mundane work. It is nice to hear though that Alec Soth answers emails. He's not the only one who does this.
Doing work that is different, doesn't make it good. It just makes it different. The hard part is being different and good.
Zenrhino you mention that life is composed of a million little mundane moments everyday. That is very true. However maybe it's just me, but I really have no desire to see "a million mundane moments" from someone elses life. I would rather see the exceptional moments. When they succeed or fail, when they experience a challenge, when they find satisfaction or enlightenment. I feel the same way about landscape photos, I don't want to see some scene at it's most common and most disinteresting, I want to see it when the planets have aligned and it is amazing to behold. And that may not even be a scene of excitement but one of serenity and beauty. Can you imagine sitting down and reading a book about a million mundane things in someone's life? Or watching a movie about a million mundane things for 3 hours? I can't, so why is it acceptable in photography?
This million mundane moments thing is just like reality TV. At least they edit out the truly boring stuff and only show the more unusual moments.
If you can take a mudane scene and make it captivating and magnetic, that's something, taking a mundane scene and keeping it mundane is a security camera.
"Don't like his stuff? Perfectly fine. People turned their noses up at Renoir and Monet, too. People thought Picasso was f'n nuts. People thought Ray Charles was blasphemous and thought Hemingway couldn't write his way out of a sack. No accounting for taste"
It's very easy to use that argument. But for every artist that truly is like a Renoir or Picasso, there are 10,000 who use that argument to justify why people don't "get" their work. As for Renoir, Picasso and Monet, their work while being different for their time, still held to the foundations of painting, that is good composition, good color use, a sense of light, good design, and serious visual interest. People may have thought that they didn't understand their work, but they found it interesting to look at. Ray Charles still used rhythm, harmony, composition and his work was stunning to hear, not boring. What did Hemingway write about? Were his works mundane or heroic in their scope?
Don't get me wrong here. I hope you don't think I'm coming down and saying, "Dude, your opinion sucks!" If you're running with the big dogs and even have representation (let alone in the same group as Soth, et al) then your experience and opinion are greatly valued and I thank you much for your engagement in the dialogue.
What I'm saying is that often, it takes a long time for taste to catch up to contemporary work. Maybe art history will relegate Soth, Deutsch, Hilliard, Strassheim, etc. to the same sad place where Mortenson is -- forgotten and reviled for over-reaching and trying to force the medium to do things it was never meant to do.
You're not the only one who holds a negative opinion of contemporary phototgraphy. My own mentor (who is a straight documentarian and studied with Jerome Leibling), considers contemporary photography to be nothing more than "pretty, affluent people sitting on a bed and staring off into an uncertain future" and pretty much holds the Yale MFA program in contempt for forcing this upon the art world. But you know, art reflects its era. We live in an uncertain world where people do sit on their beds and stare off into the future. Maybe the current trend reflects a retreat from the hyper-realism of Fox News and reality TV and is trying to dial "reality" back a notch from roadside bombs and plastic surgery-enhanced "bachelors" to shots of actual people.
What does all of this mean? That there is a great gaping void where a countermovement can go. It's perfectly fine not to like an art movement. Let's just come up with the Next Next Big Thing(tm), preferably using film. Then WE can get into the Whitney Biennial, sell prints for a cubic buttload of cash, and get invited to join Magnum. :D
Me, I happen to like taking pictures of people sitting on beds staring off into an uncertain future. I also like pictures of places that people see every single day but never find beautiful because they don't take the time to see the beauty there. Mundane? Banal? Sure. But I like that kind of stuff. Notice that George Slade and those guys aren't banging down my door to get prints to hang, either.
By the way, I LOVE that we get to have this kind of discourse and dialoge here. So much of shooting gets into dilutions and emulsions and which lens has the highest LPM, etc. It's a ton of fun to get to comment on the passing clouds of art trends. And really, that's all they are. Art trends are like the weather, and you know what they say about weather up here in Minnesota: Don't like it, wait a few minutes and it'll change.
Which begs the question: Where is hyper-contemporary photography? Where is the bleeding edge? Or is there one? Maybe photography as an artistic medium has been explored as fully as possible and all that's left is retread and use of photos as documentary images. This whole discussion makes me want to find my copy of Crisis of the Real and give it another read.
I enjoy reading threads like this. The only thing I can add is that ultimately, history, and the market, together, sort it all out quite nicely in the end.
ZenRhino, you stated," We live in an uncertain world where people do sit on their beds and stare off into the future." Uncertain world? Is that any more true than when people lived during the Great Depression? Or WWII? Or the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 that killed 40 million people? To be honest the times we have now, while challenging are not the nearly same as those endured by our parents and grandparents. Yet there was photography done during and following the Great Depression, WWII and The Spanish flu that still managed to have beauty, timelessness and deep meaning. And they still managed to have good composition, good lighting, serious visual interest, etc. I think the problem now is that our society has become quite shallow and lacks the substance of our parents/granparents generation and the current photography either reflects that or is a symptom of it.
I'm not saying that mundane things should not be photographed, I photograph them all the time. But I attempt to take those mundane things and make them special, and it takes a lot of effort. If I simply wanted to photograph things that were mundane and keep them mundane, I need not even look through the camera. So why celebrate countless mundane moments that are given significance simply because someone aimed a camera at them? Why lower the bar to where mundanity becomes the desired affect?