A brand new MACK edition of Sleeping by The Mississippi launched Alec Soth’s first exhibition in London dedicated to the series at the Beetles+Huxley gallery in Piccadilly last week. The new edition of the book includes two new photographs that were not included in the previous versions. I went along to see the images – and the photographer, up close and in the flesh.

Soth took a series of road trips along The Mississippi River, shooting landscapes, interiors and folk he met along the way, building up a kind of loose narrative, like pieces of a jigsaw that the viewer can put together. He is a great ‘book’ photographer in this respect, I think, as the whole story can reveal itself when the images are looked at as a unified whole; as you do in a book.

Soth himself has said “Anyone can take a great picture. But very few people can put together a great collection of pictures. It is incredibly difficult to put these fragments together in a meaningful way. And this is my goal”.

So like a jigsaw, all the pieces are essential in playing their part to give the complete overview – or as complete an overview as possible. Because, like Robert Frank before him with his pioneering book The Americans, you can get meaningful insights into America and its people here – but it’s not prescriptive in its message.

There’s a sadness that permeates this whole documentary series – of lives unfulfilled, of disappointment and of resignedness. But this is where, through Soth’s eyes, documentary meets poetry; and the result is a trip along a river that acts as a metaphor for life, encompassing childhood, hopes, dreams, art, religion, politics, sex and ultimately of course, death.


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