“A plausible index of the way that a shift in our culture is reflected in the distinctions between Soth’s work and Sternfeld’s can be measured in the change in the address of their portraits. The inward turn in Soth’s work finds expression in the individuated and isolated environment in which he typically frames his subjects. So often in these pictures it seems his subjects are struggling for purchase on their lives, striving to remain upright or to retain faith in their beliefs or dreams, and that struggle is waged outside of the infrastructure of community or nation - it is waged alone, and often quietly.
With Sternfeld so often his portrait subjects are interwoven within the broader social milieu in which they work or live, while for Soth his subjects are typically tucked away in some unheralded and unremarkable corner, encountered in the full blush of their carefully cultivated private spheres of living. There is little brashness in the figures in American Prospects – we are more commonly shown a certain studied reserve, by turns harsh, bleak, ironic and monumental. In keeping with the profound cultural shift that separates the America of the early Reagan years from the new millennium, in Soth’s portraits we frequently see a certain unabashed boldness, in posture, dress, or tone. Where American Prospects builds outward from a subdued palette that is of a piece with its painstakingly subdued exhortations, Sleeping By The Mississippi is frequently marked by a brightness that seems harsh and isolating – an assertiveness that stoppers the deep separate quiet of the spaces where Soth encounters it. Dreams are scribbled on paper, painted and pinned onto walls, plastered up on plywood and scrawled across clothing: the properly introspective work of reconciling inner hopes with exterior circumstance is here inscribed on the surface of things in a gesture of stubborn, desperate, often solitary and hopeful persistence.”
— Ballad of a Lonely Boy