A closer look at photographer Alec Soth's vivid portraits of people and places across America

Alec Soth, Peter's Houseboat, Winona, Minnesota 2002, from the series: Sleeping by the Mississippi © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

American photographer Alec Soth has been celebrated around the world for his extraordinary vivid portraits of people and places, sharing feelings of love and loneliness with underlying socio-political themes.

His 2004 series Sleeping by the Mississippi catapulted him into stardom: following in Robert Frank's footsteps, the artist documented American life on a road trip along the Mississippi – and did so in a very personal, poetic and melancholic way.

Soth's images read like case studies of American society, giving us an insight into the lives of ordinary, and sometimes not so ordinary, people; his work covers middle-class life outside the big metropolises as well as people on the margins of society.

His documentary photographs oscillate between reality and fiction and develop an extraordinary narrative power. Some pictures seem poetic on the merits of their subject alone, or because they appear painterly and at times carry romantic connotations, such as when Soth photographs Niagara Falls in all its splendour. In the same way, his depictions of everyday people and places manage to project a sense of dreaminess, of otherworldliness.

In his award-winning photo books, he matches essays, short stories, or excerpts from song lyrics by various authors (such as Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford) with his photographic works. They contribute to the overall narrative and underscore the yearning, sometimes melancholic atmosphere that makes Soth's images so strangely alluring.

You can see some of his works in an exhibition from 27 February at KUNST HAUS WIEN in Vienna. Alec Soth: Photography Is A Language features Soth's famous series Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004) as well as Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2014) – all shown for the first time in Vienna, alongside his most recent work I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating (2019).

As the gallery says: "In his pictures, deeply human desires and needs reverberate, telling of both the trivial and complex realities of life, of physical and psychological landscapes alike."

Alec Soth, Arcadie. Bucharest, 2018, from the series: I Know Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, 2019 Alec Soth, Arcadie. Bucharest, 2018, from the series: I Know Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, 2019 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos, Courtesy Edios Foundation

Alec Soth, Arcadie. Bucharest, 2018, from the series: I Know Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, 2019 Alec Soth, Arcadie. Bucharest, 2018, from the series: I Know Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, 2019 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos, Courtesy Edios Foundation

Alec Soth, Galina. Odessa, 2018, from the series: I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Galina. Odessa, 2018, from the series: I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Near San Antonio, Texas, 2013, from the series: Songbook, 2015 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Near San Antonio, Texas, 2013, from the series: Songbook, 2015 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Misty, 2005, from the series: Niagara, 2006 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Misty, 2005, from the series: Niagara, 2006 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Melissa, 2005, from the series: Niagara © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Melissa, 2005, from the series: Niagara © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Two Margaritas. Minneapolis, Minnesota 1995, from the series: Looking For Love, 1966 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Two Margaritas. Minneapolis, Minnesota 1995, from the series: Looking For Love, 1966 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Charles, Vasa, Minnesota 2002, from the series: Sleeping by the Mississippi © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Charles, Vasa, Minnesota 2002, from the series: Sleeping by the Mississippi © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Bunny Ears. Saint Paul, Minnesota 1996, from the series: Looking For Love,1996 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Bunny Ears. Saint Paul, Minnesota 1996, from the series: Looking For Love,1996 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Anna. Kentfield, California, 2017, from the series: I Know Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, 2019 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos

Alec Soth, Anna. Kentfield, California, 2017, from the series: I Know Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, 2019 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos