One of Soth’s earliest photo books was the stained copy of Adams’s Summer Nights. He bought it before he considered his handful of books a collection. Today, he said, “the Robert Adams shelf is a heavy one.”
Soth has collected around 5,000 books, but he still doesn’t consider what he does “collecting” in a formal sense. “I'm not obsessive about first editions, or untouched books. Not everything needs to be signed,” he said.
When Soth began earning international recognition for his work, he was able to travel to book fairs; form relationships with publishers; and start an experimental imprint, Little Brown Mushroom. His own publisher, Mack Books, released his latest book, I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating, earlier this year, as well as a reprint in 2017 of his formative 2004 monograph Sleeping by the Mississippi.
Soth has been heavily influenced by classic U.S. photo books like ’s Message from the Interior
(1966), and Shore’s Uncommon Places
(1982), but he also seeks out niche books that have unusual relationships between image and text. He became fascinated by the subgenre of photographic children’s books—Dare Wright’s The Lonely Doll
(1957) being among the most famous—as well as photo-based comic books. “I have lots of obscure artists’ books and zines that use image and text in funny ways,” he said.
His most treasured photo book was an unlikely find. Over two decades ago he was sifting through a Barnes and Noble sales bin when he came across the U.S. edition of ’s The Solitude of Ravens
(1991), an obsessive, poetic study of ravens that reflected the desolate mood of postwar Japan. It’s a rare book cherished by many photographers, but was unknown to him at the time. “I opened it up and I was transformed by the images,” he said. “This particular American edition doesn't have great design. I think it’s valuable [now] because it's kind of obscure, but just the act of discovering this work at this time in my life has such value.” He added: “I keep that one in glassine and I treasure it. I think about it a lot.”