Scot Sothern reflects on a lifetime behind the lens in America's underbelly
Tracing a dude like Scot Sothern‘s personal history can be a little challenging. At first glance, the most prominent points on the timeline seem oddly scattered–thematically, geographically, and temporally, across a good five or six decades. Sifting through his greatest hits, you’ll find cults in middle America and disappearing tribes in the Middle East. His series of vintage photo essays on Vice finds him draft dodging during ‘Nam in Kansas City, tripping in the San Gabriel Valley with blood-drinking Satanists, and drunkenly wandering the streets of 1980s Cairo. There are too many stories to count, and very few don’t involve either sex or substances. When I asked Scot to piece it all together for me, it felt almost like a gonzo Forrest Gump–if Forrest Gump had been really into taking pictures of hookers.
Sothern spent a solid block of time in the ’80s exploring the seedy underbelly of Southern California, meeting and photographing the sex workers who called it home. Scot’s work from that era was collected and published in 2011’s Lowlife, and through the Vice ecosystem, found the audience it always deserved; the book, along with a handful of solo exhibitions, reprsented a high water mark for exposure in Sothern’s career. But to look at his journey through the prism of any one project is more than a little reductive. A half century spent as a freelance shooter and hedonist have left Sothern with a body of work that’s expansive, fearless and occasionally brutal in its honesty. To put it mildly, he’s seen some things.