In the book Dog Days Bogotá, photographer Alec Soth wrote the following introduction: “My wife and I adopted our baby girl, Carmen Laura, from Bogotá, Colombia. While the courts processed her paperwork, we spent two months in Bogotá waiting to take Carmen home. Carmen’s birth mother gave her a book filled with letters, pictures and poems. ‘I hope that the hardness of the world will not hurt your sensitivity’, she wrote, ‘When I think about you I hope that your life is full of beautiful things.’ With those words as a mission statement, I began making my own book for Carmen. In photographing the city of her birth, I hope I’ve described some of the beauty in this hard place.”
This arresting text is accompanied by a photo of a baby in the shade, protected from the sun, lying on the grass with her arms open. The photograph and the text together set the context for the sequence of 49 photographs that follows.
In the first photograph, a lonely dog sits on the top of a hill, and in the background we see a big city disappearing in the smog. Another image shows a long street with houses on both sides and, on the horizon, the top of a mountain—probably where the dog in the previous image was photographed. This image tells us that we are already in the city of Bogotá. A third one is a portrait of a young couple—perhaps still teenagers—hugging each other tightly. Next to them is a pram with a baby looking towards the camera, wanting some attention. These three individuals could well be—although they are not—Carmen Laura and her parents.
This project represents what could be described as the ‘Alec Soth formula’: a variety of square format images including formal portraiture, observed portraits, landscape shots, indoor photographs and details that give rhythm to the narrative. The sequence of images is intersected by photographs of dogs. These dogs—10 in total—are mostly street dogs, mongrels who are both subject and metaphor for the difficulties of living and growing up in Bogotá.
Dog Days Bogotá is encompassed by a simple beauty that shows the careful and attentive sensibility of Alec Soth, as a photographer and, most likely, as a father too.
All images courtesy of Alec Soth
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