Alec Soth is a native Minnesotan, a US state renowned for its beautiful, rolling nature, thriving metropolitan cities, internationally-known arts community, and the fact that it rates among the highest in the states for standard of living.

Bordering Canada within the American midwest, its domestic neighbours are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin – massive, wide, expansive states with only a handful of large cities between them. Maybe it's the Minnesotan mentality to empathise with loners and dreamers – two groups of peoples that The New York Times say Soth has a particular affinity with.

Gathered Leaves at the Science Museum is Soth's first major exhibition in the UK. It's a show so strong, the works on display would surely place the artist among the hallowed group of great American photographers; names including Robert Frank, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans or Irving Penn.

One big reason for the appeal of Soth's work is that it is based in portraiture. Think of what you might imagine as quintessentially American and you might come up with a stereotype or cliché. Soth takes pictures of ordinary people doing ordinary things but deftly manages to avoid these trappings. And yet, he somehow develops an overall picture that contributes heavily to what "being American" might mean to us. It's easy to write about Soth's work with generic terms like raw, tender, or haunting – and they are – but they are also much more. They are personal and modern, yet somehow retain a sense of classical portrait photography (with specific reference to the American style); they are idiosyncratic but easy to engage with. They tell a story, individually and as a combined narrative. Visually, they are beautiful. Very simply, we can't think of any reason why you shouldn't visit this exhibition.

Alec Soth: Gathered Leaves is at the Science Museum until 28 March.

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