Arturo Soto – A Certain Logic of Expectations

In evolutionary terms, expectations function as a survival mechanism. To expect is to anticipate the probability of certain future events, to remain alert, ready to confront a deviation from such probability. Since they are often deeply grounded in the collective imaginary, some expectations tend to cause considerable levels of anxiety; a fear of failure, of realising one’s inadequacy to meet standards. On rare occasions, however, the expected beast reveals itself as a wounded animal, turning its glorified existence into a pantomime, its power into dust, our fragility into stone. Arturo Soto’s book, A Certain Logic of Expectations, arrives at a timely moment to uncover the shades of the city of Oxford; home of wisdom and academic tradition, but where everyday passions and calamities unfold in the same ordinary manner one would expect from any provincial town.  

The author’s approach to the city is that of an urban therapist; making quiet, rigorous observations, while collecting factual evidence and interacting with its protagonists to understand their inflictions. All this is done from a non-judgemental position, allowing his patient to reveal its broken parts, offering a comforting space to start healing, accepting itself, with its traumas and triumphs, with its history and the unbearable weight of responsibility linked to its name.

‘In evolutionary terms, expectations function as a survival mechanism. To expect is to anticipate the probability of certain future events, to remain alert, ready to confront a deviation from such probability.’

It is worth noting that while this therapist-author is a foreigner to the city, he is by no means a total outsider. As a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, Soto speaks with good knowledge of the cause. He is unavoidably part of its system. Has been accepted by it, integrated in it through the contribution of his doctoral thesis, adding a note of diversity to the accumulation of ideas, findings and aspirations mostly produced by privileged white British males.

The cloth-bound publication – whose solemn design aligns perfectly with the place it represents – contains a combination of photographs from the city of Oxford and a long text recounting the author’s impressions of its places, its people and the (at times surreal) dynamics between the two. Note that I refer here to ‘the book’, as opposed to ‘the photobook’, because at this point I am not entirely sure if the latter is truly the nature of this volume. Soto’s text is so magnificently written, with a very direct, yet incredibly rich language, that the weight carried by his words cannot be easily matched by his photographs. Having read through all 142 pages of the text without a blink, it appears to me that the images work more as an illustration of the written content than as equal companions to the text. I often found myself compulsively passing the pages, intrigued to read about Soto’s next discovery in the city streets, his latest interaction with a date, or a surreal conversation with his barber. This compulsive reading of Soto’s everyday anecdotes often stopped me from looking closely at the pictures, which I kept reminding myself to revisit every few pages. That is not to say that the dozens of photographs spread throughout the book do not constitute a plausible body of work. On the contrary, they are all excellent images offering a valuable, alternative portrait of little-known areas of Oxford, which help bring the city (and the University) down from the heavens to join the rest of mortal souls.

Whatever its art or literary label, Soto’s book is a real delight to explore. The reader will feel transported to the city of Oxford by a very knowledgeable guide, who will make sure no stone is left unturned, no story untold and no institution wounded by the expectations it can no longer hold.

Arturo Soto
The Eriskay Connection, 2022

All Rights Reserved: Text © Paula Gortázar ; Images © Arturo Soto/The Eriskay Connection