Alec Soth/ Alec Soth

United States 1969


Alec Soth
Alec Soth
United States

Alec Soth is an American photographer from Minnesota and a member of the prestigious Magnum cooperative. His style is based on the American style of photography which is distinguished by the on the road philosophy of taking photos. The pioneers of this tradition, such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Stephen Shore, are just some great photographers by whom Alec Soth was inspired. What makes his work unique is that he discovered this style on his own by randomly wandering around finding things, instead of reading about it. Because of this, his creativity came directly from him, instead of from the inspiration by the photographers before him.

Alec Soth – The Reverend and Margaret’s Bedroom, 2002

Photographer on the Road – Amazing Street Stories

When Huckleberry Finn decided to travel the great river Mississippi, there wasn’t a clear goal in his head. He was traveling for the sake of traveling. Similar stories lie behind the photographer’s work. But, instead of being fiction, the photographer’s work is chronicled by himself, instead of by a writer. It seems as if traveling and recording the experience is deeply rooted in American tradition. Songs are sung, books were written, and lastly, photographs are taken by the likes of Alec Soth. From West to East, every inch of unique and beautiful American heritage has been documented in one way or another. When speaking about Soth and different art forms that have documented this American desire, it can’t go without mentioning another important element of his style of photography. Although it is photography, his work has a strong cinematic feel, as if any moment the images will start to move and tell the story to which this single image is introducing. Encompassing most Midwestern part of United States, Soth has created large-scale American projects through which he documented the outcasts, dreamers, strangers, and everyday people. He has photographed around the entire continent of America, but somehow the part that attracted him the most was the part most of the people just fly over when trying to get from one side to the other. Although his work is mostly compared with the work of Walker Evans and Stephen Shore, his true first inspiration came from discovering Diane Arbus and her work.[1] As Arbus was known for photographing marginalized people such as dwarfs, giants, transgender, etc, it inspired Soth to take his chance by traveling and documented the great American unknown. Parts of the America that are full of life, but the majority either doesn’t go there or simply doesn’t notice the beauty found on the edge of the society.

Although it is photography, Soth’s pictures have a strong cinematic feel

Alec Soth – Melissa, 2005 (Left) / Patrick, 2005 (Right)

Sleeping by the Mississippi

While traveling the Mississippi river, Soth created and self-printed a book title Sleeping by the Mississippi. This brought attention to his work and in 2004 his image title Charles was picked for the poster of 2004 Whitney Biennial.Soth admitted he was very shy as a child and this shyness reflects in his work. The thing is, it doesn’t reflect in a negative way, something people would initially think, but rather in a creative and cooperative fashion. He often feels nervous while photographing unknown people he meets, but as Soth himself said: My own awkwardness comforts people, I think. It’s part of the exchange. Another too early brought presumption would be this exchange is based on giving attention to the marginalized people for a photograph, but the exchange runs on a much deeper and personal level. It is fueled by a positive need to document things which are often ignored. These people already have the beauty of their own and people like Soth play the role of the medium to bring this beauty to a wider audience. The empathy is the main ingredient of his work and although he’s a member of Magnum, his work isn’t pure street photography. Nevertheless, it shares the values by connecting not just with the people found on the streets, but outside them as well.

While traveling the banks of river, the photographer from Minnesota created and self-printed a book titled Sleeping by the Mississippi

Alec Soth – Bonnie (From Sleeping by the Mississippi)

Alec Soth and His Portrayal of the Unusual

When saying on-the-road-photography, we cannot but think it’s an unplanned style of photography. For most of part, it’s true as people like Soth can’t know what they will experience. But, they can imagine what they would like to experience as a sort of a goal. This goes for Soth who would often have notes taped to the steering wheel of pictures he would like to take. One of the lists for the Sleeping By Mississippi project stated: pilots, amateur paintings, mattresses, Memphis, border collies, house boats, unusually tall people, museum guards, snow, lent, other photographers, Duluth, sleeping children, neighborhood bars, icehouses, prostitutes, Bogota, supermarket cashiers, model airplanes, sheep, sedans, the quad cities, swimming pools, suitcases, and the Mississippi river. Having an idea of what can be found on his list is important as it’s the point that distinguishes him from before mentioned inspiration, Diane Arbus. Unlike her who focused solely on rejected part of society, Soth is interested in everything and nothing. More specifically, he doesn’t ignore one extreme for the sake of the other. His photo wishes might seem random, but in reality, they are all created from a mind untainted by the outside world of prejudice. Through them, Soth wants to create one main story where each picture leads to another. This is yet another aspect which draws the line towards the similarity with cinematography – creating a story with its beginning and the end. His lists can include anything, from things as common as a tent to unusual things most people would ignore, such as mushroom hunters. It’s unpredictable, which is the reason why Soth’s work keeps its freshness even after many years of work.[2] When photographing people he has a simple procedure. He’ll always ask them for permission and he’ll wait for the model to get comfortable. This way, Soth enters the unique world of an individual where he becomes able to document the habits and rituals of each person. Interestingly, Soth brought this ability to the point where it’s no longer mandatory for the person to actually be in the shot, a landscape of person’s house or a close up of his/hers belongings is enough.

Soth wants to create one main story where each picture leads to another

Alec Soth – Florence

Niagara and Broken Manual Work

Sleeping With Mississippi was published in 2004 and the following book was Niagara from 2006. Niagara followed a similar pattern as the previous one, documenting the outskirts where the civilization and wilderness collide and more importantly, people who are the main part of this mixture. One of the most known photographs from this book is of a bride sitting outside a small building, most likely a local motel. This picture was taken during his trip to Niagara Falls where he made an arrangement with a local wedding chapel to photograph couples as soon as they got married. Interestingly, some of the newlyweds photographed in this period were nude. Expanding his view on life outside photography, Alec Soth managed to do in a 4 year period when he created Broken Manual alongside Lester B. Morrison. This book, as the title says, is a manual for people who are looking to somehow get away from their own lives and creating a new one. Unlike his previous work, here he gave priority to unique types of people such as monks, survivalists, and escapees. His photography might come from curiosity filled with shyness, but they are the most sure-footed documentation of entire generations that either lived or are living in the United States.[3] American curator John Szarkowski said this about his work: It isn’t what a picture is of, it is what it is about. This short sentence could possibly be the best description of his work. After a couple of more books, Soth created his own book publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom in 2010. It made it easier for him to publish his own pictures and to utilize the time as much as possible, but it also opened a new possibility, to publish books of like-minded people.

Niagara documents the American outskirts where the civilization and wilderness collide

Alec Soth – From Broken Manual

Traveling Between Europe and the United States

Besides taking photographs of random people, Soth also photographed celebrities and their homes, most notably Johnny Cash and his boyhood home in Kingsland, Arkansas. A small cottage with a tree triple its size and a large field in front, it summarized everything about the childhood of the Man In Black. Interestingly, it summarized the life before the fame, something that probably wasn’t done unplanned.There are a couple of lines Alec Soth and his work walks. One is the line between romance and cold reality, while the other is between documentary photography and photography as a fine art. Somehow, Soth manages to combine all these elements into one meaningful whole. In reality, anybody can walk these lines and encompass them into their work, but those fine little details that make a piece of art great, only artists such as Soth have. Although he traveled countless times on the relation USA-UK, two trips can be said to be most important. One was in 2015 when he went to the UK to promote his then latest book titled Gathered Leaves, and the second trip happened around 5 years earlier. During this trip, Soth was allowed for a work visa although he didn’t apply for one. The visa was given under presumption if he was caught photographing without one he would be put in prison for as much as two years. Because of this, during this trip, he hired his young daughter to take pictures while staying in Brighton.

Soth manages to combine all these elements into one meaningful whole

Alec Soth – Gathered Leaves

Important Exhibitions

The photographer’s work has been featured in countless solo and group exhibitions. Besides in the UK, Gathered Leaves exhibition was stationed also in the Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki and many other places. It was the biggest Soth’s exhibition to date as it brought together four of his best-known works: Sleeping by the Mississippi, Niagara, and Songbook. Another recent exhibition titled Hypnagogia showed yet an entirely different part of his work. 30 good images from 20-year of exploration time were featured. The element connecting these 30 specific images was the feeling of being neither awake nor asleep. These photographs presented this mid-state through people and landscapes. An exhibition similar to Gathered Leaves was featured in Walker Art Center titled From Here To There, Alec Soth’s America. The title couldn’t have been more appropriate as it was a comprehensive exhibition of his entire work until 2010.Besides before mentioned Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010), and Gathered Leaves (2015), Alec Soth also self-published Fashion Magazine (2007), Dog Days, Bogota (2007), and The Last Days of W (2008).

The artist’s photography has been featured in countless solo and group exhibitions in 2016

Alec Soth – Two Towels (from Niagara), 2004

Fellowships and Prizes of Alec Soth

Alec Soth’s first big prize was in 2003 when he was handed Santa Fe Prize for Photography and also received a fellowship from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations. His work is both in major public and private collections. Most renowned places that hold Soth’s work are San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Art Houston, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Walker Art Center.Soth has photographed for The New York Times Magazine, Fortune and Newsweek, in 2004 was nominated and in 2008 accepted into Magnum Photos.

Alec Soth lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


  1. Soth, A., Dog Days Bogota, Steidl, 2007
  2. Dyer, G., From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, Walker Center, 2010
  3. Soth, A., Niagara, Steidl, 2006

Featured image: Alec Soth’s Portrait – image via
All other images copyright of the artist.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Fierce Generosity: The Carolyn Glasoe Bailey Memorial Exhibition Porch Gallery, Ojai, CAGroup
2016How I Learned to See: An (Ongoing) Education in PicturesFraenkel Gallery, San FranciscoGroup
2016FASHION SHOW: 60 Years of Fashion PhotographyAtlas Gallery, London, UKGroup
2015SongbookSean Kelly, New York, New YorkSolo
2015SongbookFraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2015SongbookWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2015SongbookLoock Galerie, Berlin, GermanySolo
2015Colorado: selections from the LBM DispatchDenver Museum, Denver, ColoradoSolo
2015Gathered Leaves: The photographs and books of Alec SothNational Media Museum, West Yorkshire, United KingdomSolo
2014Alec Soth: Until NowWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2014From Here to There: Alec Soth’s AmericaMMoCA, Madison, WisconsinSolo
2014Meer Macht (More Power)Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle, The NetherlandsGroup
2014DOK:14Fredrikstad, NorwayGroup
2014In Context: The Portrait in Contemporary PhotographyRuth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, Hamilton College, Clinton, New YorkGroup
2014CodexCCA Wattis Institute, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2014SacredMinneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2014IN-HUMANOMarco Museum of Contemporary Art, Monterrey, MexicoGroup
2014Alec Soth & FriendsSprengel Museum Hannover, GermanyGroup
2014People’s BiennialMOCAD, Detroit, MichiganGroup
2014BredaPhoto International Photo Festival: Songs From the HeartBreda, the NetherlandsGroup
2014SHAPESHIFITING: Contemporary MasculinitiesThe College of Wooster, Wooster, OhioGroup
2014The luxury of simplicity. Lifestyles away from the normMünchner Stadlmuseum, Munich, GermanyGroup
2014American Scene Photography: Martin Z. Margulies CollectionMOAFL, Fort Lauderdale, FloridaGroup
2014Homeland [In]Security: Vanishing DreamsDorsky Gallery, Long Island City, New YorkGroup
2014The Plot ThickensFraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2013Alec Soth: Dog Days BogotáEl museo de Bogotá, Bogotá, ColombiaSolo
2013On NatureSean Kelly, New York, New YorkGroup
2013Under My Skin – Nudes in Contemporary PhotographyFlowers, New York, New YorkGroup
2013Museum Of Modern Art And Western Antiquities Department Of Light Recordings Section Iv: Lens DrawingsGalerie Marian Goodman, Paris, FranceGroup
2013Inaugural Exhibition: Looking ForwardThe Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OhioGroup
2013Project Lost Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon ValleySFMOMA, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2012Broken ManualSean Kelly Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2012Wanderlust: Photographs by Alec SothNorth Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North CarolinaSolo
2012From Here to There: Alec Soth’s AmericaCranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MichiganSolo
2012America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to NowRISD Museum, Providence, Rhode IslandGroup
2012Reconsidering the Photographic MasterpieceUniversity of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, New MexicoGroup
2012Real to Real: Photographs form the Traina CollectionDe Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2012The Dwelling Life of Man. Photographs from the Martin Z. Margulies CollectionFoto Colectania & Fundación Suñol, Barcelona, SpainGroup
2012The Dwelling Life of Man. Photographs from the Martin Z. Margulies CollectionKunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, The NetherlandsGroup
2012Under My Skin – Nude In Contemporary PhotographyFlowers Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2011Alec SothPaddle8, Online ExhibitionSolo
2011From Here To There, Alec Soth’s AmericaEverson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New YorkSolo
2011Broken ManualLoock Galerie, Berlin, GermanySolo
2011Streams of Consciousness: The Histories, Mythologies, and Ecologies of WaterSalina Art Center, Salina, KansasGroup
2011American Photography: From Berenice Abbott to Alec SothKunsthandel Jörg Maaß, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2011Krakow Photography BiennialKrakow, PolandGroup
2011Post Cards from America ProjectMagnum Photos, New York, New YorkGroup
2010From Here To There, Alec Soth’s AmericaWalker Art Center, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2010American PortraitsAmerican Academy in Rome, Rome, ItalySolo
2010Mississippi NiagaraTriennale di Milano, Milan, ItalySolo
2010Myth, Manners and Memory: The American SouthDe La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, United KingdomGroup
2010Strange & Familiar: Three Views of BrightonBrighton Museum of Art, Brighton, United KingdomGroup
2010Embarrassment of Riches, Picturing Global WealthMinneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2010Huckleberry FinnCCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2010Portraits 100 Years: August Sander, Robert Mapplethorpe and Alec SothWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2010On the Road: A Legacy of Walker EvansRobert Lehman Art Center at Brooks School, North Andover, MassachusettsGroup
2010The Mechanical BrideThe Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto, CanadaGroup
2010America NowMontserrat College of Art, Beverly, MassachusettsGroup
2010People, Places & ThingsNaples Museum of Art, Naples, FloridaGroup
2010Individual to IconPlains Art Museum, Fargo, North DakotaGroup
2009NIAGARAWilliams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MassachusettsSolo
2009Sleeping by the MississippiArthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LouisianaSolo
2009Dog Days, BogotáMassachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MassachusettsSolo
2009Back Line of WoodsHigh Museum of Art, Atlanta, GeorgiaSolo
2009Dog Days, Bogotá, NIAGARAIM Art, Seoul, KoreaSolo
2009Last Days Of WStephen Wirtz Gallery San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2009Last Days of WGagosian Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2009The Minnesota EyeCollege of Visual Arts and Design, Saint Paul, MinnesotaGroup
2008Last Days Of WHaunch of Venison, Zurich, SwitzerlandSolo
2008Alec Soth: The Space Between UsFotomuseum Winterthur, Winterthur, SwitzerlandSolo
2008Dog Days, BogotáStephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, IllinoisSolo
2008Alec Soth: The Space Between UsBBK, Bilbao, SpainSolo
2008Sleeping by the MississippiMinneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2008The Space Between Us: Photographs by Alec SothJeu de Paume, Paris, FranceSolo
2008NiagaraFotogallery, Wales, United KingdomSolo
2008Heart LandVan Abbemuseum, The NetherlandsGroup
200830th Anniversary ExhibitionArthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LouisianaGroup
2008UTOPIAMuseu Collecao Berardo, Lisbon, SpainGroup
2007Dog Days, BogotáWeinstein Gallery,Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2007Tunnels and BirdsPower House, Memphis, TennesseeSolo
2007Fashion MagazineJeu de Paume, Paris, FranceSolo
2007NIAGARAHost Gallery, London, EnglandSolo
2007Picturing EdenMuseum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CaliforniaGroup
2007Summer ExhibitionWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2007Summer ShowGagosian Gallery New York, New YorkGroup
2007A New American PortraitJen Bekman Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2007June BrideYossi Milo Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2007Magnum Cinema CommissionCinémathèque Française, Paris, FranceGroup
2007Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant-GardeTate Liverpool, Liverpool, United KingdomGroup
2007On Death and Dying: Photographs from the Collection of the Museum of Contemporary PhotographyColumbia College, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
2007Documents: Memory of the FutureKoldo Mitxelena, San Sebastian, SpainGroup
2007Landscape: Fact and FictionBenton Museum, Storrs, ConnecticutGroup
2006Sleeping by the MississippiCalifornia Museum of Photography, UC-Riverside, CaliforniaSolo
2006NIAGARAWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2006NIAGARAWohnmaschine, Berlin, GermanySolo
2006NIAGARAGagosian Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2006Sleeping by the MississippiDes Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IowaSolo
2006Sleeping by the MississippiOlson Gallery, Bethel University, St. Paul, MinnesotaSolo
2006THE OFFICE: In and Out of the BoxDorsky Gallery, Long Island City, New YorkGroup
2006Group Dynamic: Portfolios, Series and SetsDes Moines Art Center Downtown, Des Moines, IowaGroup
2006Pingyao International Photography 2006Pingyao International Photography Festival, Pingyao, ChinaGroup
2006DownriverMinnesota Center for Photography, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2006Prague Contemporary Arts FestivalPrague, Czech RepublicGroup
2006ClickDoubleClickPalais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, BelgiumGroup
2006Between the LakesMadison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WisconsinGroup
2006Less is more, more or lessWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2006ClickDoubleClickHaus der Kunst, Munich, GermanyGroup
2006Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2006The Photographers’ Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
2006Middle Ground: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American ArtMiriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery - Columbia University, New York, New YorkGroup
2006The Ramer Collection and Other PhotographsThe Richard Nelson Gallery, UCDavis, Davis, CaliforniaGroup
2006Picturing EdenGeorge Eastman House, Rochester, New YorkGroup
2005PortraitsMinneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2005Sleeping by the MississippiFocal Point Gallery, Southend on Sea, Essex, United KingdomSolo
2005American LandscapesTimezone 8 Editions, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2005Beyond the PortraitT.H. Inside, Milan, ItalyGroup
2005McKnight Fellowship exhibitionUniversity of Minnesota Regis Center for Art, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2005Regarding the RuralMassMoCA, Boston, MassachusettsGroup
2005Roger Ballen, Vera Lütter, and Alec SothGagosian Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2005Minets A PolisCohan and Leslie Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2005Nine PortraitsSteven Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2005EpilogueJackson Fine Art, Atlanta, GeorgiaGroup
2005Contemporary Photographs from the Allen J. Thomas Jr. CollectionNorth Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North CarolinaGroup
2005Selections from the 26th Bienal de São PauloMuseum of Contemporary Art, Santiago, ChileGroup
2004Sleeping by the MississippiOpen Eye, Liverpool,Solo
2004Sleeping by the MississippiWohnmaschine, Berlin, GermanySolo
2004Sleeping by the MississippiWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
2004Sleeping by the MississippiStephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2004Sleeping by the MississippiYossi Milo Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2004Group ShowDaiter Contemporary, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
200426th Bienal de São PauloPavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzo, São Paulo, BrazilGroup
2004Summer Group ExhibitionStephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2004Best Midwestern: Photographs from the HeartlandJen Bekman, New York, New YorkGroup
2004Wild FlowersAriel Meyerowitz, New York, New YorkGroup
2004CakewalkAmbrosino Gallery, Miami, FloridaGroup
2004PhotoLondon gallery boothGagosian Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
2004Sleeping by the MississippiArtChicago Artist Booth, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
2004Whitney BiennialWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, New YorkGroup
2004Group photography exhibitionTehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran, IranGroup
2003Sleeping by the MississippiMuseum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IllinoisSolo
2003Sleeping by the MississippiWeitman Gallery of Photography, Washington University, St. Louis, MissouriSolo
2003Picturing Bill - Portraits of William EgglestonJohn Stinson Fine Arts, New Orleans, LouisianaGroup
2003Summer LifeAlice Austen Museum, Staten Island, New YorkGroup
2003Dog DaysGallery T, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2003Group ExhibitionWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2002Sleeping by the MississippiJerome Fellowship exhibition, Minneapolis College of Art and Design Gallery Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2002Campus as Place, Photographing CarletonCarleton College Art Gallery, Northfield, MinnesotaGroup
2001Portraits (From Here to There)Central Lakes College Gallery St. Cloud, MinnesotaSolo
2000Portraits (From Here to There)Katherine Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
1995At the BarIcebox Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
1993The Middle NightMinneapolis Photographer’s Gallery, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo
1988Two-person exhibition of portraits with Joel SternfeldMinnesota Center for Photography, Minneapolis, MinnesotaSolo