Alec Soth Sleeping by the Mississippi 

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For a month in the heart of Piccadilly, Beetles+Huxley will be home to the the first exhibition in London to focus on Alec Soth's critically acclaimed photographic series “Sleeping by the Mississippi”. Coinciding with the latest launch of the beautifully printed MACK edition of the book, 25 colour, large-format film images are on display from one of America’s most popular and luminary contemporary photographers. 

 

The photographs, as a narrative, meander from subject to subject, never staying too long as to structure an audience response too much, instead drawing a clearer picture of the journey and its people, but also of Soth himself. The 3 years that Soth created these works between 1999 and 2002 really have no resemblance to real life or real time at all. “Sleeping by the Mississippi” captures a dream-like fiction, which in turn, creates a mix of confusion and oddity, the same as experienced after waking up from a drowse – with the exact amount of time you were asleep for being lost to hypnopompic disorientation. 

 

This is accentuated by the environment Soth traversed. America’s “third coast” appears sleepy in our minds and the media, but it is as Soth’s intuitive sense for discovery of character developsand his deftness with his large-format emerges, that he manages to coalesce three years of landscapes, lives and interiors into one hazy experience. In speaking of his work 15 years later, the artist seems to draw correlation between the type of feeling the work evokes and the type of person he was at the time. In retrospectively describing himself as “nervous” and capable of “inducing pity” through “clearly awkward body language”, he understands that what makes many of these images irreproducible today, is the space between artist and subject at that moment in time. It seems that the locations he explored and the people he encountered along his way – in combination with who he was then – has given life to work which unconditionally never feels invasive or exploitative; a reflection of Soth himself. Naturally, Soth has commented that his work has never intended to be political but acknowledges there is little he can do to stop people adding their own narrative, as and when America’s politics turn turbulent.  

 

The search for meaning can be brushed aside for a moment as the dream-like story told by Soth, is in equal balance both enigmatic and mesmerising. It is definitely worth taking a break from trying to make sense of real world stolidity and experiencing this quietly solacing exhibition in person.