Alex Soth interview

Alex Soth is an American photographer and filmmake. The theme of his most recent exhibition “Broken Manual” is hermits, mentioned previously in this blog. Soth is currently exhibiting at New York City’s Sean Kelly Gallery. Soth was interviewed by the Blouin ArtInfo website. The article is titled: “How to Run Away: Alec Soth on What He Learned From His New Series of Hermit Portraits,” printed Feb. 17, 2012. Additionally, the mainstream Huffington Post also features Soth in an article titled “Alec Soth’s Photographs Capture Males Outside Of Society” (because the hermits Soth photographed are all men).

Here is an excerpt from the interview, followed by a quoate from the Huffington Post article.

ARTINFO: Hermits aren’t exactly easy to pin down. How did you actually find your subjects?
SOTH: In many cases, I found people on the Internet, which always seems like a contradiction. The whole thing about this project is that it’s a contradiction. One of the resource materials that I looked at a bit… there’s this blog that I read on hermitry. And I just think that’s really funny. All these people reading this blog–
ARTINFO: A blog on hermitry seems like the ultimate irony.
SOTH: Yeah, exactly. …

Huffington Post:

What is the inner life of a hermit like, you ask? There is something unsettling about the men in Soth’s images; they quietly address the interior struggle between savagery and civilization, between masculinity and sensitivity. It is clear that the men place great trust in Soth; the natural urges for both bold masculinity and sensitivity lurk in the shadows of their honest faces. Their haunted, faraway expressions create equally haunting imagery, the wilds of the woods mirroring the recesses of the mind.


Hermits in China

From the China Daily website, an article on a man inspired by Bill Porter’s search for hermits related in Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits who pursued his own search for hermits.

The article is titled “Man finds spiritual life through hermits” and describes Zhang Jianfeng’s efforts to contact over 600 hermits in Zhongnan Mountain, the same mountainous vicinity that Porter explored.


PHOTO: Zhang Jianfeng (left with three hermits (© CFP – ChinaFotoPress)

Rauch on introverts

The Guardian item titled “This Column Will Change Your Life: Introverts” by Oliver Burkeman follows up interest in the forthcoming book Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain with a retrospective on Jonathan Rauch’s popular Atlantic article of 2003, “Caring for Your Introvert.”

The Guardian:

Solitude in Judaism

An article on solitude in Jewish contemplative practice, from the blog Jewish Contemplatives. The little essay serves as a useful introduction to the topic, as in these important observations:

The two main reasons for the apparent dearth of solitary practice in Judaism are its insistent focus on communal activity and its objections to life-long celibacy. Judaism does not generally encourage physical withdrawal from society, it encourages the pursuit of justice and mercy through social action. Judaism does not encourage monastic celibacy as a way of expressing devotion, dedication, or as a spiritual technique. Instead it regards procreation (Genesis 1:28) and the education of children by the family unit (Deuteronomy 6:7) to be positive mitzvot — commandments to be observed. It also insists that communal liturgical prayer is the ideal form of Jewish worship, and it makes the presence of a minyan (ten worshipers) the condition for many full liturgical usages in order to assert this directive somewhat forcefully.

Nevertheless, if we look at the lives of Jews with a leaning towards meditation, contemplation, and meticulous religious observance we may find surprising and highly significant anomalies in the practice of religious solitude. I am not merely referring to fringe pietist groups or minority eccentrics here, but towering figures like Moses our Teacher, Elijah the prophet, Rabbi Isaac Luria the eminent kabbalist, and the Baal Shem Tov, founder of “modern” chassidism. These are not Jews on the fringe. They are the generators and exemplars of quintessential Jewish spiritual practice.