Theory & Practice

Alec Soth’s Notes on the Making of His Book, Niagara

We share the visual essay that explains how the photographs in his second book came together

Alec Soth

Alec Soth Two towels. Canada. 2004. © Alec Soth | Magnum Photos

Following on from the hugely succesful, Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Alec Soth‘s Niagara came out in 2006 – and saw the photographer making work on both sides of the US-Canada border in the locale of the famous falls.

The book is romantic in theme, but maybe in a sense that is more technical than actual. Soth photographed lovers, newlyweds, loners, and families. He collected personal letters and documented the hotels, motels, and bedrooms that service the region’s honeymoon-heavy tourist industry. The book is spattered with melancholic notes – the faux leather back cover is embossed with the message, “If there was a nice apartment and I have a decent job and you felt happy and thought there could be a nice history together would you come home?”, taken from a handwritten note the photographer included in the book.

As photographer and writer Colin Pantall noted in a 2018 feature for Magnum, “Niagara depicts a time that now appears distant. It’s post-9/11 so the United States is already in decline, but it’s a nation yet to fully grasp the vengeful nature of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars or America’s fading voice and influence on the world stage.”

Here we share Soth’s own visual essay on the making of the book, which weaves together the people and places he came across. These pages appeared in the 2018 edition of Niagara, published by MACK. The special edition of the book, which includes a signed and numbered print, is available via MACK, and signed copies are also on the Magnum Shop.

Soth leads Magnum Learn‘s second on-demand online course – Alec Soth: Photographic Storytelling – which offers unique insight into Soth’s practice through more than five hours of exclusive video content featuring in-depth interviews, on-location shoots, practical demonstrations, and deep dives into his best-known books – including Niagara. You can learn more about the new Magnum Learn course, here, and watch the course trailer at the end of this feature.