Artist and writer Scot Sothern first came to prominence during the 1980s, with the unique combination of photographs and stories in LOWLIFE — a project chronicling the lives and times of Los Angeles sex workers. Proving himself a fearless and unflinching chronicler of the challenging stories of society’s subcultures — including the one from which he personally escaped — in his long career in words and images, including in books and VICE Magazine, Sothern has pursued a compelling combination of controversy and empathy. His current exhibition and this week’s book launch at These Days gallery pair early, deeply personal work with a recent, politically charged series in visceral mixed media works that speak to an America grappling with change that is not always for the better.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
SCOT SOTHERN: I started out as a portrait photographer which was more about making a living than making art. I learned photography from my father who had a portrait studio in Springfield, Missouri. I became an artist in my early twenties when my work stopped looking like my father’s work and became exclusively my own.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Politics, sex, humor, rage.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Watching television and yelling at the screen.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I was a horrible student in high school. I had learning problems. I was rebellious and angry at the world and because It was the sixties I had an excuse to run wild. I did manage to graduate from high school but that was it for my formal education.
When was your first show?
I have a two-foot-tall box of rejection slips from galleries, museums, publishers, agents, and magazines. I didn’t get my first show until I was 60. Since then I’ve kept pretty busy.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
GENERATIONS is up now — extended until June 19 and with a book-signing reception on Saturday, June 11, 3-5pm — at THESE DAYS LA in DTLA. The show is twofold in that we have a series of vintage photographs and quick stories from the 1970s, FAMILY TREE, as well as a new series, IDENTITY, which I did during the pandemic. IDENTITY is made of 19th Century glass plate ambrotype photographs which I have disassembled and then reassembled with spliced-in images from my own files and/or found images.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
Vivian Maier — who never had an exhibit in her lifetime — would be my first choice. On a more realistic note, Miron Zownir. Miron is a German photographer/artist/writer/filmmaker and he, like his work, is amazing. I generally don’t like to make comparisons and I hope Miron doesn’t mind, but I think of him as the Lou Reed of photography. We did a book together, HELL BENT, published by THESE DAYS and I think we could do a great show.
Website and social media handles, please!