By Madison Amidon

Where do lost dreams go? Alec Soth’s photo collection Sleeping by the Mississippi captured the river of dreams extraordinarily, some could say perfectly. Like all images, you get only what’s given within the photograph, to find the true meaning you have to dig deeper, think harder. Soth’s collection takes the viewer on a trip down the mighty Mississippi River, or as he described it, America’s “Forgotten third coast.” Looking at individual images from the collection, nothing distinctly connects them together on the surface, but taking a more diligent look at the photographs, much more meets the eye. From a photo of an old, ragid matress submerged in water surrounded by lifeless trees, to a lonely woman sitting alone in a restaurant on a day meant to represent endless love, whose face is painted with gloom and despair, to a sex worker, proped up by her elbows on bed, wearing only undergramets, staring directly into the camera with a frown and piercing eyes, along with 43 more than discrptive photos, Soth took it all. Soth captured the beauty of this “forgotten coast,” full of the deceased dreams of very dreamful people. His collection displays what really happens when dreams die, and the process of egressing back to the agony of life’s reality.

Mother and Daughter, Davenport, Iowa, 2002

Alec Soth’s road trip down the Mississippi hit the neglected cities of the third coast, one being Davenport, Iowa, a city sitting right on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The photo “Mother and Daughter” was one of five pictures taken in Iowa, the second state he visited on his journey. The photo depicts two young women wearing silk frocks with their legs crossed, staring precisely at the camera. Despite their bland expressions, they are the opposite of boring. From the British Journal of Photography, I found out that this photo is of a mother and daughter, one still dreaming and one retired from dreaming. Although it’s unclear which is which, they both have the face of reality.

Luxora, Arkansas, 2002

Much further down the river is Luxora, Arkansas, a small town with a population of just over 1,000. The photo simply titled “Luxora, Arkansas,” is of three decrepit pieces of furniture set up in a way for easy communication. Litter is scattered all over the dead, grassless ground and trees just as lifeless as the beat-up furniture surrounding in the background with a body of water. This setup was someone’s dream, maybe meant for a group of friends to wind-down or to have a little fun. There is a sense of unimportance in this, an area not well loved or taken care of. When reality called, this dream died. Whomever this was meant for had to go back to their daily lives, to what’s familiar and comfortable. They had to abandon their dream.

Green Island (Hospital Bed), Iowa, 2002

Like the last photo, “Green Island” does not feature any people, capturing the idea of lost dreams in a different way. This photo features an old television set, a broom and the most eye catching: a hospital bed. The common theme of unloved is prominent in this. The floors appear chaotic, while the bed is unmade and unwelcoming. There are areas on the wall where paint has chipped off and not been repaired. An unloved bedroom, someones lost dream. This room represents more than the objects it holds, it represents someone’s life, where they dream. This room is no longer a dream, it is a reality.

Bonnie (with a picture of an Angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2002

Taken in Port Gibson, Mississippi, the photo, “Bonnie,” is a woman sitting on a blush colored couch holding a picture of a bright blue sky and a watch on her left wrist, in the title it states the picture is of an angel. There is a deep contrast between the plain colored couch, wall and her shirt, and the vibrant colored picture of the sky framed with a thick, gold structure. The gold frame holds her lost dream. Her reality is no longer the bright blue sky, filled with so many opportunities. It is now the plain, beige themed room, with nothing but the passing of time.

Alec Soth’s collection, Sleeping by the Mississippi, takes a trip down a river that is prominent in the lives of so many. The Mississippi represents thousands of lost dreams and the harsh reality of life. Where do lost dreams go and what happens when they are lost? The imaginations of so many hopeful people sink into the river of dreams. All the photographs in Soth’s collection represent the question ‘where do dreams die’ perfectly. Whether the photo is a landscape shot of a pasture with horses, or a painting dedicated to the lives of two people who dream of cooking and racing, or ball of string sitting on the ground accompanied by dirt and dust, all represent lost dreams and the reality of life. Dreams are simply an escape from everyday struggle and hardships, a way to fall into our minds and wish. When dreams die, we simply fall back into what we know is comfortable, losing hope on the way.


Smyth, Diane. “Alec Soth Is Sleeping by the Mississippi.” British Journal of Photography, 5 Dec. 2017,

Soth, Alec William. “Alec Soth: Sleeping By The Mississippi ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art.” Mia,

Sothexpand_more, Alec William. “Bonnie (with a Photograph of an Angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, Alec William Soth ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art.” Mia,

Sothexpand_more, Alec William. “Green Island (Hospital Bed), Iowa, Alec William Soth ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art.” Mia,

Sothexpand_more, Alec William. “Luxora, Arkansas, Alec William Soth ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art.” Mia,

Sothexpand_more, Alec William. “Mother and Daughter, Davenport, Iowa, Alec William Soth ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art.” Mia,

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