Photographer Research: Alec Soth – Sleeping by the Mississippi

Paul O’Leary (Leicester College tutor) introduced me to the book Sleeping by the Mississippi by Alec Soth. Since then I have been doing further research into the book to get ideas about how to photograph an unfamiliar area or community.

Soth’s documentation of these communities in Sleeping by the Mississippi is so inspiring. The Mississippi is an iconic river known to the world through film and fiction. It’s the home of the blues and soul food driven by devout Christian beliefs. Alec Soth believes these photographs to be uplifting and not at all sad and says that they show a welcoming community. However, I think they often show us what appears to be a very isolated existence, run down environments where not only belongings are discarded but people appear to be marginalised too. Even those in the company of others don’t seem to be interacting, however, that’s not to say that this is the case- ambiguity makes for a great narrative and these photographs are like the beginning line of a story waiting to be told.

I would like to travel to Porlock and look at capturing a community and the residents, perhaps in a quirky, unconventional way using some of the contrasts and comparisons Soth has so successfully achieved. His use of portrait and landscape and still life has encouraged me to try and incorporate different genres. I will however be shooting digitally and not using an 8 x 10 camera.

Soth Peters Houseboat

Peter’s Houseboat, Winona, Minnesota , 2002

I love the colourful washing line in this picture. It is like a symbol of pride and upholding of standards in a bleak existence.

Soth Helena

Helena Arkansas

This picture suggests a backwater where everything has been forgotten. The idea of abandonment is certainly something I want to include in my project.

Soth St_Genevieve

St. Genevieve

Idyllic environment but isolated and maybe abandoned boat. Maybe no longer needed, for the tourist trips or fishing livelihood.

Soth Eggleston in his music room

Eggleston in his music room, Memphis Tennessee, 2002

Memphis is the home of great music, Elvis, Muddy Waters, and Aretha Franklin. This is an intimate snapshot of a man keeping music alive. Although but there is something rather sad about the hunched stance and back view, there is also something quite positive in the suggested concentration of the creativity process and the hope that the music will be shared with others.

Soth Jim_Wax_Museum

Jim Wax Museum

A portrait of a wax representation of Jim the escaped slave from Huckleberry Finn He’s smiling unlike many of the real people in the communities.

Soth Sunshine-Memphis

Sunshine Memphis, Tennessee, 2000

Soth captured this girl working in a brothel. This room is her home and workplace. .He wanted to go back and shoot her wearing nice clothes. She said she didn’t have any. The contrast between the imaginary, smiling wax slave Jim and the real life slavery of Sunshine is palpable.

Soth Patrick

Patrick, Palm Sunday, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 2002

I love the contrast between the dishevelled environment and the well dressed resident. It’s quirky but does define the importance of faith to the community.

Soth Joshua

Joshua, Angola State Prison, Louisiana, 2002

This photo is so honest and directly interacts with the viewer. Like Patrick , this man has an unfailing belief even in prison conditions. The way the other inmates are blurred just enhances a strong central faith. The slogan against the white adds a quirkiness in the same way as Patrick’s suit and palm do against the environment.

Soth Bonnie

Bonnie (with a photograph of an angel) Port Gibson, Mississippi , 2000

Like the symbols worn by Joshua and Patrick , there is something a little unconventional in the angel portrait but again it shows an individual’s strong belief and the way they choose to present it. I like the idea that a if community does adhere to a collective belief they can journey through it using different paths.

Soth Bible_Study_Book

Bible Study Book Prophet in the Wilderness Vicksburg, Mississippi, 2002

This still life is another example of the ambiguity I would like to achieve in my project. Has this abandonment of the tools of faith come through death or moving away on another journey?

Soth Reverend_and_Margaret's_bedroom

Reverend and Margaret’s Bedroom

I love this study! The pictures encapsulates what appears to be a family history in a small space and the photographer has been invited to share it.

 Time is like the Mississippi River. It only flows in one direction. You can never go back.

Suzanne Woods Fisher

Soth Holt_Cemetery

Holt Cemetery , New Orleans, Louisiana, 2002


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An intuitive creative mind

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