About the Photographer
Alec Soth creates color photographs of the disparate scenes and people he discovers during meandering journeys along the Mississippi River. Beginning his voyages in the frozen winters of Minneapolis and ending in the sultry heat of New Orleans, Soth's pictures trace a cultural gradation along the largest and most storied river in the United States.
Patrick, Palm Sunday, Baton Rouge, LA, 2002; Luxora, AR; and Sunshine, Memphis, TN, 2000 are part of Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi series. They are rich in symbolism, touching upon the themes of adventure and home. According to Soth, the key to his photographs can be found in the following quote by Charles Lindbergh, written about the twenty-second hour of his transatlantic flight in The Spirit of St. Louis:
Over and over again I fall asleep with my eyes open, knowing I'm falling asleep, unable to prevent it. When I fall asleep this way, my eyes are cut off from my ordinary mind as though they were shut, but they become directly connected to this new, extraordinary mind which grows increasingly competent to deal with their impressions.
Like Lindbergh, Soth is fascinated by the mind's ability to function at varying levels of consciousness, to "see" without really seeing, and to process without the faculty of reasoning. Letting his body and mind wander along the river, Soth creates a series of lyrical images that capture the spirit of the region that, in many ways, forms the cultural marrow of this country.
Lurking below the surface of Soth's images are issues particular to the history of this corridor of the country: slavery, economic boom and bust, and a deep religious undercurrent. The river, symbolically a place of baptism and renewal, serves as a metaphor for Soth's photographic pursuits. As he drifts from one location to another, he documents rituals – spiritual and secular, private and public – that he finds along the way, from portraits of devout prison inmates and parishioners on Palm Sunday to mantelpieces adorned with family photographs and pictures of religious and political icons. Other scenes littered with pornography and empty liquor bottles speak to more seedy forms of ritual. Soth poignantly touches the racial tensions of the history of this region in a picture of a vulnerable African-American teenage girl reclining sensuously on a hotel bed, and a disturbing close-up of the face of a wax figure of Huckleberry Finn's friend, runaway slave Jim. Like the river itself, Soth's pictures flow through stories but don't form a linear narrative. Soth says that his intention was to create a series of photographs that feel like lucid dreaming.
Alec Soth was born in 1969. He received his BA from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. His works have been exhibited at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Gallery; Carleton College Art Gallery; the Weinstein Gallery; and the 2004 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial. He is the recipient of a McKnight Photography Fellowship, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, and the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography.