Born in Minnesota, Alec Soth's photography is rooted in the tradition of Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Walker Evans. Soth, an avid traveler, spent five years working his way down the Mississippi River and documenting the places and people he saw with his 8 x 10 camera. His resulting body of work entitled "Sleeping by the Mississippi" attained critical acclaim during its exhibition in both the Whitney Museum of American Art and São Paulo 2004 Biennials, and the publication of the monograph, "Sleeping by the Mississippi" by Steidl Press.
Soth's photographs resonate with the paradoxical expressions of beauty and poverty, anonymity and familiarity, and, above all, individuality and a collective consciousness. Soth cites a quote by Charles Lindbergh, written mid-transatlantic flight in his memoir, "The Spirit of St. Louis," as the basis for his own creative process:
"Over and over again I fall asleep with my eyes open, knowing I'm falling asleep, unable to prevent it. When I fall asleep this way, my eyes are cut off from my ordinary mind as though they were shut, but they become directly connected to this new, extraordinary mind, which grows increasingly competent to deal with their impressions."
Through the lucid state of conscious dreaming, Soth captures the personality specific to each of his subjects, while subtly exposing the sociology that unites them. His symbolism alludes to issues of national history and identity, as well as political and economic currents that shape his subjects' respective realities, belying the independence that Soth's portraits tend to emphasize. It is this fragile balance of harsh reality and humanity that Soth's photographic language so poetically describes.
Soth's photography has been exhibited at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis Minnesota, the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Santiago de Chile. He has received fellowships from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations and was the recipient of the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography. His photographs are in major public and private collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.