Friday, 5 October 2012

Sleeping By the Mississippi - Alec Soth

Sleeping By the Mississippi
ISBN 3865217532

This book was a joy to read. It starts with a written essay by Patricia Hampl recounting a Sunday drive as a young child with her father to see the local flood damaged area by the Mississippi river in 1956. Neighbourhoods are gone and even before the first picture I could smell the rotten wood and picture bits of furniture floating down the street. "Think of the pianos!" is a wonderful line spoken by the girls mother in the text.

The images in the book lead the viewer along a meandering path close to the river - through towns, showing us people, places and things. There are many themes that can be picked out in the images -  religion being one prominent feature in many of the portraits and landscapes. But there is also a deeper subtext. We see a number of beds in use and abandoned. A grubby mattress part submerged in swampy water and surrounded by leafless winter trees. The supporting text at the end of tells us that beds and peoples dreams are a motif throughout the book. The cover image is of a grubby yellow wall with empty picture hooks where once plates and trinkets were hung. A postcard of a river flowing towards a mountain bathed in a red sunset has been left behind. An amazing image. Peoples hopes, dreams, aspirations are all set out in this one photograph.

Some of the portraits in the book were fascinating also.

Crystal, Easter, New Orleans, Missouri, is one that comes to mind. I think the reason we can read these images so well (even when they at first appear so far removed from our own lives) is because we are all part of a hyper-connected modern experience that we all share. Even if some of the glimpses we have are moderated through films, television, photography, we have far more in common with a cross dressing (trans-genderd?) person sitting on a Disney bedspread in New Orleans than an exquisite image of 19th century Paris by Atget.


To show that my photography has developed since reading this book and to place my own work in context with other photographers I have included some images from later assignments below. These particular images can be directly attributed to the influence of analysing and reflecting on the work of Alec Soth. I made a conscious decision to highlight the mundane environment and to juxtapose it against street portraits for this assignment.

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