Scot Sothern – Family Tree

Review by Gerhard Clausing

When Scot Sothern was a young man, he became, by his own description, an ‘itinerant photographer’ who, having escaped from the formal studio work edicts of his father’s practice, decided to mix with and get to know the folks on the street in the 1970s, especially since at that time complete strangers were more trusting of a person with a camera. Suspicion and mass antipathy had not yet blanketed the country.”

The results of his early work are presented in this photobook, just published in connection with new gallery exhibits that connect this early project with new series and current generational, cultural, and geopolitical developments.

In this photobook, Sothern shows us some sixty situational moments of individuals portrayed in their environments (1975-1980), without any attempt to beautify or disguise their appearances or characteristics, accompanied by brief descriptive story details.  As others before him – just to mention Weegee (Arthur Fellig) and Diane Arbus as two forerunners – Scot Sothern shines when he illuminates seemingly peripheral characters of our society who often are sidelined or ignored, and it also becomes clear that the boundaries between US and THEM are fluid and not really always all that distinguishable.

There are several distinct differences that make this work special. Sothern’s portraits are in glorious Kodachrome and printed on Cibachrome, two processes that are no longer available. In addition to Sothern’s keen eye and photographic acumen, this older technology adds to the refreshing immediacy of the portraits, even now that almost half a century has gone by. The slightly additional saturation gives the images a certain kick, a liveliness that benefits the capsules presented here. Sothern’s commentaries show his role as part of what he depicts, while at the same time there is also some distance in the critical remarks as verbalized in his humorous style. As always, the photographer projects himself into the work, both in the portraits (which are in my view always an extension of a photographer’s self) as well as in the image titles and the brief verbal narratives accompanying each portrait.

Needless to say, life, even at best, is never all that easy or very predictable. This project by Scot Sothern is an important contribution to the role of art in recognizing and illustrating this major truth; his photographic and textual narratives are straight-forward and point to the vagaries of this universal uncertainty. Our mutual ‘family tree’ is made up of an overwhelming number of ‘deviations’ that are so numerous that they become part of a more contemporary and honest definition of ‘normal.’ This photobook reminds us to be respectful of individual differences, and to accept them with the understanding that our present and our future are most definitely colored by our past.


The PhotoBook Journal previously reviewed Scot Sothern’s Little Miss.


Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California


Scot Sothern – Family Tree

Photographer:  Scot Sothern (born in Pittsburg, Kansas; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Publisher:  These Days, Los Angeles, CA; © 2022

Texts:  Scot Sothern

Language:  English

Softcover wrap-around, illustrated, spiral-bound; 120 pages, unpaginated; 8.5 x 10 inches (22 x 25.5 cm); printed in the USA by Alco Printing

Photobook Designer:  Clark Allen


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.

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