Alec Soth: Sleeping by the Mississippi
Jon Swanson, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions
Minnesota artist Alec Soth is one of the most celebrated, awarded, and acclaimed photographers working today. MMAM is proud to present an exhibition from his celebrated book and photographic series, Sleeping by the Mississippi, first exhibited and published in 2004. This landmark project propelled him to international critical and commercial success. Soth has had more than 50 solo exhibitions globally and his photographs are in major public and private collections. He is the youngest full member of Magnum Photo Agency, the prestigious photographers’ collective, and has published more than 25 books. This high-quality exhibition, on loan from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, will be made available for the first time to residents of, and visitors to, Southeastern Minnesota.
The exhibition Sleeping by the Mississippi, features images exploring the landscape of the Mississippi River, portraits of people living along its banks, and interiors of homes next to the river. Twenty-one large-scale photographs from this captivating series share Soth’s many road trips over a five-year period, from the upper Mississippi River valley, down to the Mississippi Delta. New York Times art critic Hilarie M. Sheets wrote that Soth made a "photographic career out of finding chemistry with strangers," and photographs "loners and dreamers." His portraits feature offbeat people, and his slow process of using a large box film camera and tripod, allows him time to enter the lives of strangers, and make a deeper connection with his subjects. While setting up his camera, Soth would often ask his subjects to write down their dreams; he then includes the dream in the description of the photograph. The subject’s dreams often connect to the final image, and give the viewer deeper insight into the photograph and subject.
Soth makes ordinary people extraordinary, celebrating their individuality and quirkiness, while also conveying many unspoken subtexts. Anne Wilkes Tucker, in the original essay published in the book, observes, “Soth alludes to illness, procreation, race, crime, learning, art, music, death, religion, redemption, politics, and cheap sex.” He also directly and indirectly relates the hopes and dreams (realized and unrealized), fears, and desires of his subjects through imagery, objects, and text.
His interior scenes and exterior landscapes are melancholic, haunting, often with feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and longing. They are filled with religious imagery and metaphors and allusions to sleep, dreams, and death. He frequently found the interiors of people’s residences were more interesting than the people themselves, and explains “Sometimes I asked if I could go into people’s homes and take their pictures there. Some of the interiors in the book started as pictures of people, but then I found their homes were more interesting. Obviously you can’t just ask people to go into people’s homes and take their pictures.”
Sleeping by the Mississippi invites us to peel back the veneer of a world we think is familiar, revealing a world we have never considered or knew existed. We as viewers are also invited to find chemistry with strangers.
There will be an artist lecture with Alec Soth on Thursday, May 30, from 6pm - 7pm. This is a free event, thanks to the support of Ernie and Sally Micek in memory of W.B. “Bill” Gautch. Alec will be available to sign books afterwards.
Alec Soth: Sleeping by the Mississippi Sponsors:
Exhibition Sponsor: Dick Record, Mid-West Family
This activity is made possible by the voters of the Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts & cultural heritage fund.