Indie Photobook Week (part 3)

Books by Alec Soth

As a final installment of posts in honor of the 3rd annual Book Fair being held tomorrow at Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, I present my collection of books by Alec Soth. Most of these are published by Soth's own Little Brown Mushroom publishing venture. Little Brown Mushroom is one of the small book publishers that will be presented at the PPAC Book Fair.

Lonely Boy Mag
"A -1 : Alec Soth's Midwestern Exotica"
"A- 2: Boys and Their Cars"

The first book by Alec Soth I ever bought was Lonely Boy Mag, "A-1: Alec Soth's Midwestern Exotica" followed by "A-2: Boys And Their Cars". Both of these books were published in 2011. A-1 is a solo project by Soth, while A-2 includes the work of Todd Hido, Alec Soth, Chad States, and Peter Davidson. Todd Hido was the juror for this year's ONWARD competition, and I got him to sign my A-2 copy when he lectured at the ONWARD Summit back in January. Hido claimed it was the only copy he has ever signed. Chad States will be attending the PPAC Book Fair this weekend and I'm hoping I can get another "rare' signature. Both of these books are editions of 1000. A-1 is sold out, while A-2 is still available on the Little Brown Mushroom website.

Lonely Boy Mag  A-2
erotic dioramas by Peter Davidson

I won't go into the complete explanation of Soth's alter-ego Lester B Morrison here. It is too complex and would require a lengthy post of its own. Lets just say that Soth sometimes works under the pseudonym Lester B Morrison in order to explore an artistic and psychological sense of freedom.The name follows Soth's obsession with the initials LBM....(Little Brown Mushroom, Lester B. Morrison, etc) Here are three zines by Lester, all with titles containing the LBM initials. These are sold as a set of three in an edition of 500.

3 Zines by Lester B. Morrison
"Lester Becomes Me"
"Lonely Bearded Men"
"Library of Broken Men"

from "Library For Broken Men"

from "Lester Becomes Me"

House Of Coates is a more formal step into the world of Lester. It is published in a very unique format, being spiral-bound similar to a cookbook or shop manual. The book is written by Brad Zeller, who tells the story of the elusive life of Lester B Morrison. The images in the book supposedly come from a duct-taped shoe box that Zeller received in the mail containing over two hundred photographs taken by Morrison. This book was released in an edition of 1000 and sold out very quickly. It is now in a second printing of another 1000 copies.The first printing copies have a green cover, while the second printing cover is brown.

House Of Coates
First printing. (Edition of 1000)

from House Of Coates

Finally, Alec Soth and Lester B Morrison lead us to the book collector's dream (or nightmare), with the Steidl Mack publication of Broken Manual. It took four years to produce this book (2006-2010). An edition of 300, each copy is a unique hardcover book hand cut to receive the hidden paper bound Broken Manual inside. (see Peter Davidson's exotic dioramas from Lonely Boy A-2 above). The books were presented all together in an installation at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York last year before being distributed to collectors.

Broken Manual installation
Sean Kelly Gallery, NY
photo by Jason Wyche

Broken Manual installation
Sean Kelly Gallery, NY
photo by Jason Wyche

Broken Manual  (#265 of 300)

Broken Manual

Broken Manual is both a photo essay of men living off the grid, as well as an instruction manual for those who would like to do so (or only dream of doing so). Soth photographed monks, survivalists, hermits, and runaways in an array of haunting and intimate images. The photographs are interspersed with pages containing tips and techniques on escaping from civilization and how to stay hidden. Many of these instructions are repeated from Lester's trio of zines (see above).

Broken Manual

Broken Manual is quite incredible to browse through. Every little detail is amazing. The shell books are intentionally distressed and contain foxing to the interior linings. Pages are hand cut and glued to create the recessed area for the inserted manual. Glued to the inside of the book is a little booklet called "Liberation Billfold Manifest" which contains sample letters to leave behind for loved ones when the time comes to head for the hills. Also included is a signed 8" X 10" color print of Soth's transformation into Lester B Morrison... "Lester Becomes Me".

Broken Manual

Broken Manual

I agonized for months over the decision to buy this book. It is way beyond my usual price range. I had never bought a Steidl limited edition book before, although I have lusted over many of them.Several times I changed my mind and told myself I was crazy to spend that much money on a book. I started to think in terms of "investment" and "secondary market value", and that takes the fun out of collecting. The dozens of twenty dollar small edition photobooks in my collection are almost always purchased with an element of fun. If a few of them become rare collectibles, that will be great, but I don't buy them with that in mind. I don't regret buying Broken Manual, not one bit. I love it. It was important for me to complete my collection of Soth's books. But the stigma of "investment value" will always be attached to it, unlike any of the other books in my collection.

I am looking forward to nothing but fun at tomorrow's 3rd Annual Book Fair at Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. Several artists and publishers from my collection of books will be there and it will be nice to meet face to face. I attended the first Book Fair at PPAC in 2010. It was rather small, but what I saw there really jump started my interest in small independent book publishing. This year's fair has really grown in size with over thirty small publishers participating. Check out the list here.  And the Indie Photobook Library will be bringing along a first ever crowd curated exhibit from its collection. A list of the books IPL director Larissa Leclair will be bringing to Philly is listed here.

Hope to see you at the Book Fair if you are planning to attend. If not, I will be posting photos and a review here on PHOTO/arts Magazine.