Once again, without really thinking about it, I find myself drawn back to and influenced by American photographers. In this case it is Alec Soth and his book “Sleeping by the Mississippi” which has just been republished in a new edition by Mack.
It had not really occurred to me before when I first became aware of his work (I think as a result of a mention in Charlotte Cotton’s book) but it is now obvious to me the debt he owes to Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Their books, particularly Frank’s, record road trips. What is strikingly different about Soth’s road trip is though that rather than moving along an East/West axis, he travelled from North to South through the MidWest which is, for me at least, a very different way of looking at the country. It is also a part of the country with which I am not at all familiar having never been to that part of the world before, apart from an enforced layover in Minneapolis once as a result of Hurricane Bob many years ago.
Another thing that really appealed to me was the fact that Soth shot this using a large format, 8 x 10, camera – not the sort of kit you would normally associate with a road trip and such subtle and intimate pictures as he took. As I have ranted on elsewhere, there is clearly still an artistic role to be played by film!
Although many of his images are unsettling, uncomfortable, and occasionally even ugly, and though there is a lot of pain in them, loss and loneliness, this is nevertheless beautiful book and a joy to flip through. And despite the apparent simplicity of many of the scenes has has depicted there is below the surface a lot of complexity and each time I go back to some of his pictures I find more and more new things.
Soth, A, (2017). Sleeping by the Mississippi. London: Mack.