Photo by Alec Soth
Alec Soth's best shot
Thursday 7 December 2006 11.20 GMT
his was part of a project I did over the course of a couple of years at Niagara Falls, the former honeymoon capital of the world. I had an agreement with this particular wedding chapel, attached to a motel called the Flamingo Inn, that I could approach newlyweds after their ceremonies.
The woman was called Melissa. I took her photograph just after she was married, right outside the room she was staying in. You'll notice that her husband isn't in the picture - it's such a difficult thing photographing a couple, because the power of a portrait is that you get to have a relationship with a person by staring into their eyes. When there are two people, it's kind of complicated - you don't know who to look at. So I realised I could separate out the couple and photograph them individually, which gives the picture a different kind of poignancy.
That quiet, expressionless expression is something that has come into a lot of my photographs. I use an 8in-by-10in view camera and I put a dark cloth over my head, so it's a very slow process, and people have to be still. I like this because I prefer the subject to be quiet and move inside themselves, so they are in a reflective state. That's part of the power of this picture, I think: she's neither happy nor sad. She's reflective, and she has this new life ahead of her.
Technically, there's nothing fancy about it; there aren't five assistants standing around me with lighting equipment. But one of the things I like to do with portraits is use the depth of field to almost carve the person out of the space. So the way the focus falls away in the background means Melissa just pops out, giving something unusually life-like to the image - in some ways you need to see an actual print to have this happen.
There's always one little detail that makes an image work, and for me it's that water in the lower left. It was raining out, and it feels like the Falls are creeping in, tugging at her dress. There's also that thing about rain on your wedding day, which is supposed to be good luck. It rained on my wedding day, and Melissa sort of reminds me of my wife, so I have this funny relationship to the image that way - one that doesn't matter to anyone else.
Curriculum Vitae Born Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1969 Studied Sarah Lawrence College, New York Career high Going into a library and seeing my book on the shelf Career low The summer I assisted a born-again product photographer Inspirations My work is often compared to the colour photographers who emerged in the 1970s. They're an obvious infl uence, but I'm equally inspired by a wide range of photographers. My answer for today is Josef Koudelka Pet hate Fish-eye lenses Ambition To produce a great book of photographs Dream subject Hermits, Scarlett Johansson, happy people, the Amazon, unusually tall people, Welsh countryside, and on and on . . .
Interview by Leo Benedictus