Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi, 2004
Sleeping by the Mississippi is a series of photographs taken along the Mississippi River, portraying the American Midwest. The images tell a story about the place and its landscape, along with its houses, objects, and people. I feel some sort of nostalgia and melancholy from the photographs and was definitely not surprised when I read that Soth is from this area; like maybe only someone who really knows this place would be able to capture it as he has, with a subtleness and a quietness focused on the realness of it all.
Alec Soth: ‘This is why it is titled “Sleeping by…”; I was trying to suggest that this was more internal and dream-like. Of course, as you say, the pictures do indeed comment on the people and places I photographed. And thus it is a kind of document. But there are just so many gaps. I was shaping my own river.’
Stephen Shore, American Surfaces, 1972-1973
Shore went on a road trip around the country from 1972-73 and took more than 300 images showing everyday life in America. I feel that Shore’s series American Surfaces is showing me “this is how life is here”. And even though the photographs are taken from different states and cities, they all blur together; without the captions, I really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between South Carolina from Ohio from New York.
MoMA PS1: ‘Here, then, is American Surfaces‘ larger sociological subject. The urban and commercial sprawl of the mid-to-late 1970s/early 1980s, which paralleled the rise of the tourist economy, would threaten to envelop America in a dulling sameness, depriving much of the country of its distinct character and its people their sense of place.’
Mike Brodie, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, 2006-2009
Brodie spent more than 10 years travelling more than 50,000 miles around the U.S. He documented his life as he hitchhiked, train-hopped, and walked. This collection of images show his relationships with other train-hoppers, all essentially living a nomadic life. What I like about this series of photographs is their rawness, honesty, youthfulness and their ‘punk-rock idealism’, in the words of Brodie himself. Much of the photography that is valued seems to belong to the 70s – 80s or earlier, so it’s very refreshing to see something closer to my generation.
Mike Brodie: ‘I went out in the world and tried my best to get good photos of the people and places that I thought were important to me.’
Nancy Borowick, Single Ladies
This incredibly charming body of work shows several women, all widows and over 70 years old, residing in a typical retirement complex called Woodcrest Lane. Borowick has taken photographs of them as well as of their apartments and the unique objects they’ve collected over the years that hold some sort of meaning to them. The images really fill me with joy at being able to see these elderly women in their day to day and have a glimpse at their personalities and the stories behind them; they also speak deeply about their collection of experiences through the passage of time.
Nancy Borowick: ‘They have all lived in many places and their apartments now are a collection of things they have accumulated over the years and the items they chose to keep and display are sentimental to them.’
Andrea Bruce, The Widows of Varanasi
Following a similar theme as Borowick’s Single Ladies, but in a very different place and context, Bruce has documented the lives of widows in the city of Varanasi, India. They are marginalised and shunned from society, thus many of them live in charity homes or are homeless. Tradition expects them to spend the rest of their lives worshipping the memory of their husbands. These powerful images feel very sombre and sad, even without knowing the context behind them. Especially ironic and heart-wrenching when compared to Borowick’s Single Ladies, who, though also widowed, look peaceful and comfortable.
In all these examples of photographers that document a journey through time and/or place, I notice that their role affects both the context and the images themselves. Soth was documenting his native land, Shore became a tourist in his own country, and Brodie documented his way of living. Each photographer has a different relationship with their subject matter, and this is apparent in their respective bodies of work. Soth and Brodie’s work, for example, are the ones that feel more intimate and honest. Shore’s feels a bit more, in effect, documentary. Bruce and Borowick are different in that they’re not documenting an actual journey, but instead portraying the lives of widows and their relationship to their place and culture. Borowick’s images also show the sentimental objects that these women have collected through time, in a way serving as physical proof of the passage of time, of their time.
Borowick, N. (n.d) Single Ladies. At: http://www.nancyborowick.com/completed-projects/single-ladies (Accessed on 25 July 2017)
Borowick, N. (2010) The Single Ladies of Woodcrest Lane. At: https://nancyborowick.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/the-single-ladies-of-woodcrest-lane (Accessed on 25 July 2017)
Brodie, M. (2006-2009) A PERIOD OF JUVENILE PROSPERITY, 2006 – 2009. At: http://mikebrodie.net/projects/gallery
Bruce, A. (2005) The Widows of Varanasi. At: http://www.andreabruce.com/the-widows-of-varanasi (Accessed on 25 July 2017)
MoMa PS1. (2005-2006) Stephen Shore: American Surfaces. At: http://momaps1.org/exhibitions/view/93 (Accessed on 24 July 2017)
Schuman, A. (2004) The Mississippi: An interview with Alec Soth. At: http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html (Accessed on 24 July 2017)
Shore, S. (1972-1973) American Surfaces. At: http://stephenshore.net/photographs/american/index.php?page=1&menu=photographs (Accessed on 24 July 2017)
Soth, A. (2004) Sleeping by the Mississippi. At: http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14 (Accessed on 24 July 2017)
Wender, J. (2013) ‘Mike Brodie’s “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity”’ In: The New Yorker [online] At: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/mike-brodies-a-period-of-juvenile-prosperity (Accessed on 25 July 2017)