Sleeping by the Mississippi. Photographs by Alec Soth. Essays by Patricia Hampl and Anne Wilkes Tucker. Steidl, Gottingen, 2004. 120 pp. Squarish quarto. First edition stated, but actually second printing with variant cover image ("Charles, Vasa, Minnesota"). Hardbound. Photo-illustrated boards. No jacket as issued. Numerous color reproductions.
There are very few instant classics in any medium, but this is unequivocally one of them!! Soth gained prominence after his inclusion in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. That same year, he was nominated to Magnum (where he now does his blogging)--not a bad year for an aspiring photographer. He had won 2003 Review Santa Fe's Prize for Photography for the same body of work, so the attention did not come out of nowhere. Since then he has become one of the most prolific of contemporary photographers, under the auspices of Little Brown Mushroom, the publishing arm for his many collaborations and in assignment and editorial work.
The title, 'Sleeping by the Mississippi' alludes to the recurrence of beds, a symbol found throughout Soth's work. As he makes his way South along the Mississippi River, Soth show us the bed used by a young Charles Lindberg, photographed at his childhood home in Little Falls, Minnesota. We see the Reverend and Margaret's bedroom, plastered with snapshots, in Vicksburg, and Sunshine, a smug grin on her face, leaning back on what appears to be a hotel bed in Memphis. If anything at all, this is a group of images about place and their inhabitants. There is no story, per se, but rather a series of unconnected dots, placed before the viewer humbly and unapologetically. Soth's working method is meticulous and methodical, as dictated by the 8x10" view camera he uses, and this reflects an inner methodology based in quiet, steady human relationships, abundantly evident here.
Trace of wear to 'tips'; Faint surface scratches to rear cover; otherwise Fine.