Somewhere to Disappear is a 57 minute documentary in which Alec Soth is the hero. For his project “Broken Manual” Alec undertakes to write a guide that will provide the basic tips on how to disappear in America...
We follow him on his search for men who live on the margins of society. People who ran away from their natural environment, to find their own world. As modern day hermits, they find peace in unaffected places of the country, whether it be a cabin in the mountains, a dark cave or in the expansive desert. Each of these people chose to live in a different way. We wanted to find out why they live like this: did they deliberately make this choice? Do they regret it? What are they really looking for? Did they find it?
This project was born during the last month of George W. Bushs era. It captures the country during a unique period of historical changes that is mixed with the torment created by the financial crisis and the hopeemerging from the election of Barack Obama.
This movie is by no means a voyeuristic cliché about someone who himself observes a subject, but focuses on a character who fantasizes about his subject and gradually blends with him.
The film captures Alec during the preliminary stage of his project. It guides us towards the rare and intriguing characters that inhabit his photos and shines a new light on the myths and contradictions of todays America. – STD
As we often have to explain to people in France as well as in the U.S., we are a team and not a couple!
Arnaud and I met 7 years ago, during our final study project. It was professional love at first sight and it was obvious to us that we were meant to continue working together. We both wanted to do a project on the photographer Alec Soth, who we both admire and who has the charisma and the qualities required for a portrait. Both of us needed an alter ego to accompany us in this pro- ject, me in my second film and Arnaud in his directorial debut. Our collaboration is an intricate balance between a permanent but obvious synergy, a real mutual trust and a fruitful confrontation. For something to be created out of this collaboration we therefore need to be in constant consensus, which sometimes can be quite complex but ultimately more interesting.
We thus contacted Alec via email: we wanted to follow him in the development of his new project. We knew he was a doing another gallery of portraits across the United States and we wanted to find out more about his work methods and the different steps that he takes to find his subjects. More precisely where and how does he find them? And how does he work with them?
We first met Alec when he was in France for the Paris Photo festival. During that first meeting he described his project: searching for people who deliberately choose to disappear in America, but he also expressed the fatigue and weariness he was feeling at the time. Half–jokingly he then added :”I am actually the one who wants to disappear, I cannot take it anymore, I take refuge in my office, my assistant even calls it the “cave”!”.
The meeting went very well. We came out of it happy. The photographer was generous, attractive and exciting but he felt more like isolating himself right then than sharing his life and he was therefore forced to dismiss our offer.
Following that meeting, Arnaud and I were as much amazed as we were intrigued by Alec: was he kidding? We realized at that moment that the boundary between the photographer and his subjects is not as clear as he claimed.
A few hours later, in downtown Paris, serendipity puts us back on the path of Alec. We take this unexpected new opportunity to try to convince him: Alec chooses to believe in this sign, and half-amused, half-intrigued, he finally accepts the challenge. A few months later we joined Alec in his hometown of Minneapolis. We embarked in his small van and started location scouting which proved to be conclusive.
We undertake our journey alongside the photographer secretly hoping to confront the man on his own will to disappear. Our goal is in no way to take a voyeuristic snapshot of someone who himself observes a subject, but rather to follow a character who fantasizes about his subject and gradually merges with it. Through that journey we had many encounters: a former homeless homosexual, a repented nazi, a drug addict, a father of two, a disillusioned retired military man… But what interested Alec, the 40 year old father, American model and world renowned photographer, is nothing of that sort. What fascinated Alec Soth was how these men had achieved what he did not even dare to try: how did they gradually leave society? How’d they disappear from America as everybody knows it? He wanted to make a sort of guide, a technical manual and in order to reach that goal he approaches as a student approaching his masters. What answers did he find in Garth, Dustin, Abstract and the others?
Garth, a spritely man of sixty, took up residence atop a rocky hill dotted with Joshua Trees in the Mojave desert. Previously homeless, he has built a paradise and seems to embody what is best about humanity. In his outdoor kitchen adjacent to a tepee, Garth tells Alec the story of his life, his ideas, his dreams, and the more Alec learns about Garth, the more he realizes that Garth has managed to tame nature. He wants to believe in a possible communion between human beings but is not under any illusions: it is easier to find water in the desert than it is to survive in the city. It gives Alec the opportunity to believe in the impossible. Dustin, a young skinhead with a swastika tattooed on his shoulder gives Alec self-defense lessons. He just turned 22 and sleeps in a tiny cave between two rocks with his gun beside him, «just in case». He fled his former militia and adoptive family, who have been on a quest to eliminate him. He shares with Alec his secrets to vanish into nature.
As we collect these meetings we leave the photographer to progressively get closer to the man and his genuine quest.
Alec changes before our eyes. More than just a professional pursuit this movie discovers the introspective journey of Alec Soth.