sponsored links
TED2015

Alec Soth + Stacey Baker: This is what enduring love looks like

March 18, 2015

Stacey Baker has always been obsessed with how couples meet. When she asked photographer Alec Soth to help her explore this topic, they found themselves at the world’s largest speed-dating event, held in Las Vegas on Valentine’s Day, and at the largest retirement community in Nevada — with Soth taking portraits of pairs in each locale. Between these two extremes, they unwound a beautiful through-line of how a couple goes from meeting to creating a life together. (This talk was part of a TED2015 session curated by Pop-Up Magazine: popupmagazine.com or @popupmag on Twitter.)

Stacey Baker - Photo editor
Stacey Baker assigns photography for the wide-ranging vision of the weekly New York Times Magazine. Full bio

sponsored links
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Alec Soth: So about 10 years ago,
I got a call from a woman in Texas,
00:12
Stacey Baker,
00:16
and she'd seen some of my photographs
in an art exhibition
00:18
and was wondering if she could commission
me to take a portrait of her parents.
00:21
Now, at the time I hadn't met Stacey,
and I thought this was some sort of
00:27
wealthy oil tycoon and I'd struck it rich,
00:31
but it was only later that I found out
00:35
she'd actually taken out a loan
to make this happen.
00:37
I took the picture of her parents,
00:41
but I was actually more excited
about photographing Stacey.
00:42
The picture I made that day
00:46
ended up becoming
one of my best-known portraits.
00:48
At the time I made this picture,
Stacey was working as an attorney
00:53
for the State of Texas.
00:56
Not long after, she left her job
to study photography in Maine,
00:58
and while she was there,
she ended up meeting
01:03
the director of photography
at the New York Times Magazine
01:05
and was actually offered a job.
01:08
Stacey Baker: In the years since,
Alec and I have done
01:11
a number of magazine projects together,
01:14
and we've become friends.
01:17
A few months ago, I started talking
to Alec about a fascination of mine.
01:18
I've always been obsessed
with how couples meet.
01:23
I asked Alec how he
and his wife Rachel met,
01:27
and he told me the story
of a high school football game
01:30
where she was 16 and he was 15,
01:32
and he asked her out.
01:35
He liked her purple hair.
01:38
She said yes, and that was it.
01:39
I then asked Alec if he'd be interested
in doing a photography project
01:42
exploring this question.
01:47
AS: And I was interested in the question,
but I was actually much more interested
01:49
in Stacey's motivation for asking it,
01:53
particularly since I'd never known
Stacey to have a boyfriend.
01:56
So as part of this project,
I thought it'd be interesting
02:00
if she tried to meet someone.
02:03
So my idea was to have Stacey here
go speed dating
02:05
in Las Vegas on Valentine's Day.
02:10
(Laughter) (Applause) (Music)
02:14
SB: We ended up at what was advertised
as the world's largest speed dating event.
02:20
I had 19 dates
02:25
and each date lasted three minutes.
02:27
Participants were given a list of ice-
breaker questions to get the ball rolling,
02:30
things like, "If you could be any kind
of animal, what would you be?"
02:34
That sort of thing.
02:38
My first date was Colin.
02:40
He's from England,
02:42
and he once married a woman he met
after placing an ad for a Capricorn.
02:44
Alec and I saw him
at the end of the evening,
02:49
and he said he'd kissed a woman in line
at one of the concession stands.
02:51
Zack and Chris came
to the date-a-thon together.
02:56
This is Carl.
03:02
I asked Carl, "What's the first thing
you notice about a woman?"
03:05
He said, "Tits."
03:10
(Laughter)
03:12
Matthew is attracted to women
with muscular calves.
03:17
We talked about running. He does
triathlons, I run half-marathons.
03:20
Alec actually liked his eyes and asked
if I was attracted to him, but I wasn't,
03:24
and I don't think he was
attracted to me either.
03:29
Austin and Mike came together.
03:33
Mike asked me a hypothetical question.
03:36
He said, "You're in an elevator
running late for a meeting.
03:39
Someone makes a dash for the elevator.
03:43
Do you hold it open for them?"
03:46
And I said I would not.
03:49
(Laughter)
03:51
Cliff said the first thing he notices
about a woman is her teeth,
03:55
and we complimented each other's teeth.
03:59
Because he's an open mouth sleeper,
04:02
he says he has to floss more
to help prevent gum disease,
04:05
and so I asked him how often he flosses,
04:09
and he said, "Every other day."
04:11
(Laughter)
04:14
Now, as someone who flosses twice a day,
04:17
I wasn't really sure that
that was flossing more
04:19
but I don't think I said that out loud.
04:22
Bill is an auditor,
04:24
and we talked the entire three minutes
about auditing. (Laughter)
04:27
The first thing Spencer notices
about a woman is her complexion.
04:34
He feels a lot of women
wear too much makeup,
04:38
and that they should only wear enough
to accentuate the features that they have.
04:41
I told him I didn't wear any makeup at all
04:44
and he seemed to think
that that was a good thing.
04:47
Craig told me he didn't think
I was willing to be vulnerable.
04:51
He was also frustrated when I couldn't
remember my most embarrassing moment.
04:55
He thought I was lying, but I wasn't.
05:00
I didn't think he liked me at all,
but at the end of the night,
05:02
he came back to me and he gave me
a box of chocolates.
05:05
William was really difficult to talk to.
05:09
I think he was drunk.
05:12
(Laughter)
05:14
Actor Chris McKenna
was the MC of the event.
05:17
He used to be on
"The Young and the Restless."
05:20
I didn't actually go on a date with him.
05:23
Alec said he saw several women
give their phone numbers to him.
05:25
Needless to say, I didn't fall in love.
05:30
I didn't feel a particular connection with
any of the men that I went on dates with,
05:35
and I didn't feel like they felt
a particular connection with me either.
05:39
AS: Now, the most beautiful thing to me --
05:45
(Laughter) -- as a photographer
is the quality of vulnerability.
05:47
The physical exterior reveals a crack
in which you can get a glimpse
05:53
at a more fragile interior.
05:57
At this date-a-thon event,
I saw so many examples of that,
06:00
but as I watched Stacey's dates
and talked to her about them,
06:03
I realized how different
photographic love is from real love.
06:08
What is real love? How does it work?
06:14
In order to work on this question
and to figure out how someone goes
06:17
from meeting on a date
to having a life together,
06:22
Stacey and I went to Sun City Summerlin,
06:26
which is the largest
retirement community in Las Vegas.
06:29
Our contact there was George,
who runs the community's photography club.
06:34
He arranged for us to meet other couples
in their makeshift photo studio.
06:39
SB: After 45 years of marriage,
Anastasia's husband died two years ago,
06:44
so we asked if she had
an old wedding picture.
06:49
She met her husband
when she was a 15-year-old waitress
06:52
at a small barbecue place in Michigan.
06:55
He was 30.
06:58
She'd lied about her age.
07:00
He was the first person she'd dated.
07:02
Dean had been named photographer of
the year in Las Vegas two years in a row,
07:05
and this caught Alec's attention,
07:09
as did the fact
that he met his wife, Judy,
07:11
at the same age when Alec met Rachel.
07:14
Dean admitted that he likes
to look at beautiful women,
07:17
but he's never questioned
his decision to marry Judy.
07:20
AS: George met Josephine
at a parish dance.
07:24
He was 18, she was 15.
07:26
Like a lot of the couples we met,
they weren't especially philosophical
07:29
about their early choices.
07:32
George said something
that really stuck with me.
07:35
He said, "When you get that feeling,
you just go with it."
07:37
Bob and Trudy met on a blind date
when she was still in high school.
07:45
They said they weren't particularly
attracted to each other
07:49
when the first met.
07:52
Nevertheless, they were
married soon after.
07:53
SB: The story that stayed with me the most
07:56
was that of George, the photography club
president, and his wife, Mary.
07:59
This was George and Mary's
second marriage.
08:04
They met at a country-western club
in Louisville, Kentucky called the Sahara.
08:07
He was there alone drinking
and she was with friends.
08:12
When they started dating,
he owed the IRS 9,000 dollars in taxes,
08:15
and she offered to help him
get out of debt,
08:21
so for the next year, he turned
his paychecks over to Mary,
08:24
and she got him out of debt.
08:28
George was actually an alcoholic
when they married, and Mary knew it.
08:30
At some point in their marriage,
he says he consumed
08:35
54 beers in one day.
08:37
Another time, when he was drunk,
he threatened to kill Mary
08:41
and her two kids,
08:44
but they escaped and a SWAT team
was called to the house.
08:45
Amazingly, Mary took him back,
08:50
and eventually things got better.
08:52
George has been involved
in Alcoholics Anonymous
08:54
and hasn't had a drink in 36 years.
08:57
(Music)
09:00
At the end of the day,
after we left Sun City,
09:01
I told Alec that I didn't actually think
09:03
that the stories of how these couples met
were all that interesting.
09:06
What was more interesting
09:10
was how they managed to stay together.
09:12
AS: They all had this beautiful
quality of endurance,
09:16
but that was true of the singles, too.
09:20
The world is hard,
and the singles were out there
09:22
trying to connect with other people,
09:26
and the couples
were holding onto each other
09:29
after all these decades.
09:31
My favorite pictures on this trip
were of Joe and Roseanne.
09:35
Now, by the time we met Joe and Roseanne,
09:38
we'd gotten in the habit of asking couples
if they had an old wedding photograph.
09:41
In their case, they simultaneously
pulled out of their wallets
09:46
the exact same photograph.
09:51
What's more beautiful,
I thought to myself,
09:55
this image of a young couple
who has just fallen in love
09:58
or the idea of these two people
holding onto this image for decades?
10:03
Thank you.
10:10
(Applause)
10:11

sponsored links

Alec Soth - Photographer
Alec Soth makes large-scale projects that are as much about dreams and heartache as they are about charting the landscape of Middle America.

Why you should listen

Alec Soth is a photographer born and based in Minnesota. He has published several books, including Sleeping by the MississippiNiagara and Broken Manual. The New York Times once wrote that Soth has made a "photographic career out of finding chemistry with strangers." His editorial work routinely appears in The New York Times Magazine, he is a member of the Magnum photo agency, and his work was featured in the Whitney Biennial in 2004.

In 2008, Soth started his own experimental publishing company, Little Brown Mushroom, that explores the possibilities of combining images and text. After publishing seven issues of his own newspaper, Soth compiled this work into his latest monograph, Songbook.

Stacey Baker - Photo editor
Stacey Baker assigns photography for the wide-ranging vision of the weekly New York Times Magazine.

Why you should listen
Stacey Baker is a photo editor at The New York Times Magazine. She assigns and produces photography for the weekly publication on topics as varied as sports, politics, religion and pop culture. She works with an array of photographers from all over the world, including photojournalists and portrait, fine-art and conceptual photographers. These include Alec Soth, Damon Winter, Lars Tunbjork, Stephanie Sinclair, Nadav Kander and Katy Grannan. She is a former director of photography at More Magazine.
sponsored links

If you need translations, you can install "Google Translate" extension into your Chrome Browser.
Furthermore, you can change playback rate by installing "Video Speed Controller" extension.

Data provided by TED.

This website is owned and operated by Tokyo English Network.
The developer's blog is here.