Archive for February, 2010

TWO CITIES: Montreal and Philadelphia

February 26, 2010

Alex Webb, Gonaives, Haiti, 1987

Please join Alex and Rebecca for their slide talk in MONTREAL on Monday, March 1st at Dawson College. The lecture is called “Together and Apart,” and is open to the public.  It will feature Alex’s work from Haiti, Rebecca’s work from the American West (including the recent photograph below), and their joint work from Cuba.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Poet's House, Rapid City, South Dakota, 2010

And please join Alex and Rebecca for an artists’ reception/book signing for their joint exhibition, “Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba” in PHILADELPHIA on Thursday, March 4th, from 5-7 pm.  It will be held at Gallery 1401 at the University of the Arts, as will a second SPE event and book signing on Friday, March 5th, also from 5-7pm.  PhotoEye will also host a book signing for Alex and Rebecca at SPE on Friday from 1:30-2:30pm.  For more information about all three events, visit Magnum Events.

Alex Webb, Havana, 2001

RNW, Havana, Cuba, 2007

TWO QUESTIONS: On Framing and Philosophy; On Multimedia and Text/Image Synergy

February 17, 2010

This month, we have TWO QUESTIONS from Japanese photographer and editor, HIROSHI YAMAUCHI, his first question about how Alex frames his photographs and his second one about how Rebecca thinks about the marriage of text and images in photography books. Next, our second featured photographer, OLGA KRAVETS from Russia, asks Rebecca about which comes first in her photographic process –– the idea or the image –– and then questions Alex about how he feels about the  expansion of photography into the world of multimedia, and the challenges that places on photographers today. You can learn more about Hiroshi and Olga at the end of this column, which also includes links to their work.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

ON THE FRAME’S ANATOMY; ON TEXT/IMAGE SYNERGY

Alex Webb, Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1990

HIROSHI YAMAUCHI:  Alex, when you come across a situation and “smell” the possibility of a good photo, do you run an anatomy of the scene first to divide spaces in your finder for what could happen?  It’s almost as if you precisely choreograph the elements in each of your frames.

ALEX WEBB: Saying “run an anatomy of the scene” makes the process sound highly analytical.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  My process is not about thought, not about analysis, but rather about feeling the totality of a scene and responding intuitively, emotionally, non-rationally.  I have sometimes used the word “smell” in this context (and I think I am paraphrasing Cartier-Bresson) specifically because smell is sensory, not rational.    The process can be a bit mysterious.  When I photograph, I sense the possibility of something — something about the feel of a place, the situation, some impending moment, the light, the color, the space, the shapes — and I often hang out and wait, hoping that something will happen, something will emerge.  But I’m never sure quite what this something is.  For me, the elements that go into the picture are often emotional elements: not just what is in fact “happening” in a situation (the purported “subject” of the image), but the space, the color, the light.  Form isn’t just form, it can be emotion.  Color isn’t just color for color’s sake, it, too, carries emotion.  Sometimes a shape in the foreground becomes some kind of transformative element, sometimes an empty space strikes a special emotional note, sometimes the color changes what wasn’t an evocative scene into something very different… Ultimately I never know what it is that I am going to find, and just how the world will surprise me.

HY: Rebecca, do you design your creative writing to play certain roles in your visual presentation as a whole?  Do you feel a good marriage of writing and photography can generate synergy, like a good meal with good wine?

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: Originally a poet, I’ve long been interested in the relationship between text and images, and how the two can illuminate each other.  For me, it’s one of my chief obsessions, something I hope to explore with each of my photography books.  In some ways, when the relationship between text and images works well, it is like a good marriage or a good meal, where the different elements complement each other, sometimes creating a kind of synergy that’s stronger than the separate elements individually.  Ultimately, it’s about striking the right balance, so that one form doesn’t overpower the other.  That said, I don’t think all books call for a lot of text –– some books just need enough to point the reader/viewer in the right direction.  In my opinion, part of power of the photography book –– and one way it is like poetry –- is its ability to suggest complex themes and ideas, yet leave enough space for the viewer/reader to have his or her own unique experience of the work.

Since we are talking here about the photography book, I think the visual element has to be considered when thinking about the text.  For my first book, The Glass Between Us, my designer, Astrid Lewis Reedy, and I decided to place the text pieces, which I called “Reflections,” either across from a blank page or opposite another text piece, as way of creating a kind of pause visually for the reader/viewer, hopefully as a way of echoing the kind of reflective state of mind one feels when looking at the creatures in a aquarium or zoo — philosophically or psychologically or emotionally or humorously or, sometimes, all of the above.  After visiting a zoo, the poet Charles Simic once wrote, “…I noticed many animals who had a fleeting resemblance to me.”

ON PHILOSOPHY & PHOTOGRAPHY; ON MULTIMEDIA

Rebecca Norris Webb, Hot Springs, South Dakota, 2009

OLGA KRAVETS: Rebecca, your projects seem to me very philosophical: There is much that your pictures make me think of, after I go through them. When you develop the idea of a photo project, do you know in advance what your pictures would look like, what and where you would shoot, etc.? Will an unexpected picture find its place in the final layout of a book?

RNW: My work is first and foremost a collaboration with the world.  I’ve learned over the years to have faith in those images that speak most insistently to me, first when I encounter them in the world when photographing, and, secondly, when I come across some of them again when editing, those rare birds that continue to resonate in me in a rich and complicated way –– emotionally, philosophically, poetically, politically –– with something akin to a kind of hum:  the hum of life and death, the hum of beauty and suffering, the hum of praise and lamentation, the hum of the world.

So, I guess you could say that I follow these resonant images to the complex idea or ideas underlying the particular book I’m working on, not the other way around.  “The image is an idea, a true idea, an earlier idea than a concept,” says the poet Li-Young Lee, and I agree wholeheartedly with him.  When I work, I try to stay as open as I can throughout the entire process of photographing a project:  I don’t know before I go out to photograph what image I will find, and many of my photographs that end up in one of my books –– at both the beginning and the end of a project –– are unexpected ones.  That’s part of the excitement of working on a long-term photography project: you never know when or where you’ll come across your strongest photographs.  As a fiction writer once said about his creative process:  If I knew how a story would end before I wrote it, what’s the point of writing it?

OG: Alex, you started photography in the pre-digital era, when a photographer was just a photographer, so what do you think of the industry today, when one, willing to become successful, has to be a jack-of-all-trades — shoot not only stills, but also video, write text, record sounds, and, finally, also produce a quality multimedia piece?

AW: You are right that photographers seem to be asked to do more today by the industry than in the past.  However, I should remind you that photographers have rarely been “just photographers.”  The process of making a book of photographs — conceiving, editing, and sequencing (sometimes even designing) — has always demanded all kinds of other skills beyond just being a photographer.  Photographers used to always print their own photographs — sometimes an arduous task, potentially as time-consuming as some of the activities that you describe.  What is different is that now photographers are increasingly being asked sometimes to step outside of the vocabulary of still imagery into other fields — video and sound.  I personally remain deeply involved in the specific language of still images — books and exhibitions — but I think there are some very exciting possibilities in the realm of multimedia.  For the latter to be successful, a vocabulary has to be developed that is significantly different than either still photography or the moving image — so that in looking at the multimedia piece one is not reminded of what it isn’t — still photographs or film/video — but of what it is — a presentation that partakes of both kinds of media but is, in reality, its own unique medium.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, Beijing, 2007

Hiroshi Yamauchi was born in Osaka, Japan in 1974. After studying political science and international relations, he entered the School of Visual Communications at Ohio University.  Hiroshi worked at the Anchorage Daily News and other U.S. newspapers, returning to Japan in 2000 to work for a wire service.  In 2006, he freelanced for domestic and international newspapers and magazines, and in 2007 joined a photography quarterly,  81Lab. Magazine, which he now co-runs.

Hiroshi’s website:  http://www.wow-photo.jp

81Lab. Magazine website: http://www.81lab.com

Olga Kravets, Primorsk, Russia, 2009

Olga Kravets, a freelance photographer based in Moscow, has worked for Berlingske Tidende (Denmark), Dagsavisen (Norway), Financial Times Deutschland (Germany), Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), Kristeligt Dagblad (Denmark), Observer (UK), Tank Magazine (UK), The Globe and Mail (Canada), Throw (Netherlands), among others.  In 2009, she was a finalist for The Aftermath Project grant, and top-10 winner of the competition, “Young Photographers of Russia.”  Olga is the author of the photography projects,  “Primorsk. The Sunken Soviet City” and “Heroes of Karabakh.”  Her work has been included in several group exhibitions in Russia and Norway.

Olga’s website: http://www.olgakravets.com

TWO LOOKS: Join us on Facebook

February 3, 2010

Because of our hectic travel schedule the next few months, TWO LOOKS will be updated more sporadically.  To be alerted about future postings, please become a fan of TWO LOOKS on facebook. –– Alex and Rebecca

FOTOFORUM: Lucky Accidents

February 1, 2010

Photography –– or at least straight, unmanipulated photography –– seems unique amongst art forms in the level to which chance or accident plays a role in the creative process. Photographers are at the mercy of the world and the world only gives them so much. To paraphrase the classic example, mentioned by CHARLES HARBUTT in his afterword to his book, Travelog:  A photographer working in a white seamless room has only a few creative options: a white photograph, a gray photograph, a black photograph, and perhaps a variety of self portraits. A painter, on the other hand, working in that same white room, is only limited in his paintings by his imagination: He can paint the sea, the mountains, cityscapes, portraits, and more.  Photography involves a different process than most of the other arts.

What this means is that often another kind of collaboration with the world emerges with photography, one that may involve accident, serendipity, or chance.  Technical mistakes –– or what the photographer initially thinks of as mistakes –– can become revelatory. These may include the surprise of a blur, of underexposure or overexposure, of the lopped-off head.

So, for February’s FOTOFORUM, we asked a variety photographers –– including JEFF JACOBSON, whose photograph of his father and son graces the cover of his first book, My Fellow Americans –– to talk about one of their photographs that they perceived as a FORTUNATE MISTAKE or LUCKY ACCIDENT.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Jeff Jacobson, Harold & Henry, Naples, Florida, 1981

My father and my then two-year-old son were playing in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters at sunset.  The sky was ablaze.  I charged into the surf, holding my strobe high over my head to avoid unpleasant electrical repercussions, squeezed off two frames, and returned to the beach.  When I looked at my strobe, I noticed it was on the wrong setting, too strong.  I decided right then and there, long before I had seen the picture, that it would be overexposed, and therefore, no good.

A couple weeks later I was editing on my light table and showed the picture to my friend Richard Sandler.  I told him that it was too bad that it was overexposed because it could have been a good picture.  “Schmuck!”, Richard delicately said, “that’s what makes the picture.  Look how the baby glows.”  It was an early lesson in non-attachment to the experience of exposure, the moment is not the picture.  It helped me learn to take as long as possible between exposing a photograph and editing it.  In the digital world, this is a problem.  But that’s another rant.––Jeff Jacobson

Jeff’s new website

Dimitri Mellos, Central Park, 2009

I shot this picture last year in Central Park. I love snow and I ventured out in the midst of a blizzard, not even waiting for the snowfall to stop, the sooner to enjoy the first snow of the year. I think I had been photographing the previous evening, and I’d forgotton to change the shutter setting on my camera. I ended up taking several pictures at a very slow shutter speed before realizing and correcting my “mistake.”  Nevertheless, when I got home and edited my photos, it dawned on me that the pictures taken at a slow shutter speed, counterintuitive as that was in the blinding whiteness of the snowstorm, were in fact more interesting than the others, because they managed to capture something of the chaotic movement of the wind and the falling snow, and the subjective sense of being caught in the midst of all this. I realized that sometimes the “moment: can be better captured through an exposure that is not so instantaneous and momentary.––Dimitri Mellos

Dimitri’s website

Torkil Faero, Telma, Paros, Greece, 2008

This is an image of Tonje’s and my daughter Telma, taken on Paros, Greece in 2008. When I later developed the pictures, I saw that the whole roll had this strange effect. I had to think back to our Greek holiday with our catamaran S/Y Kairos to solve the mystery. We had been on a day trip and returned late to our boat and the quay was totally dark. Eager to get to bed, our son Torbjørn ran and slipped off the boarding plank and into the pitch black sea. I had to wait until he resurfaced before jumping in to get him. I was terrified. My son was screaming. Amid all the turmoil, I’d forgotten I’d left this roll of film in my pocket, and the salty water created this special effect. It ruined most of the pictures, but, on this one of Telma, it seemed somehow to enhance the moment.

As we will continue to sail our boat, I might try this again someday, hopefully without Torbjørn underwater.––Torkil Faero

Torkil’s website

Olga Kravets, from the project, "Primorsk: The Sunken Soviet City"

This December, I finally finished the work on my project “Primorsk: The Sunken Soviet City.”  Most of it was shot with a Holga, a camera that too often lets light leak onto one’s film, ruining many a promising photograph. This was initially extremely frustrating to me, until I realized that some light leak–– like with the above photograph of the torn world map in an abandoned school –– emphasizes the “underexposed” and mysterious atmosphere of the place. ––Olga Kravets

Olga’s website

Animesh Ray, "The Widow," Varanasi, 2009

Animesh Ray, "The Widow," Varanasi, India, 2009

I took this last month while on a 24-hour trip to Varanasi, a city that I had last visited as an eight-year-old in 1963.  I mostly shoot with black and white film, but this time I wished to tame my new d300—a monstrosity compared to the trusted M6.  I also had in mind Alex and Rebecca’s vivid color from their Seattle workshop, and I thought this was a good occasion to seriously attempt color.

It was quite dark early in the morning in dingy Varanasi lanes.  I was shooting with my M6 but getting nowhere because most of the time I was keen on avoiding the excreta left by dogs and cows, when I emerged on to the riverside into extraordinary lights.  Nearly instantaneously I saw this widow against the river, thought of Styx and all that, and reached for the d300.  I only had one lens, a manual 28mm f/2 Nikkor, the body set at 1600ASA at ~1/15 sec, the longest exposure I can handhold this lens.  I usually keep the lens at hyperfocal distance by feel.  But having been shooting with M6, I had momentarily forgotten that Nikkors turn the other way relative to Summicrons, and so managed to set the focal plane a lot closer.  I took a few frames, with the scene being way too dark to discern through the viewfinder the problem with focus, and only later when I peered into the back I realized my mistake.  Dang, I thought, and nearly deleted the soft frames!

A fortunate mistake…––Animesh Ray

Click here see more of Animesh’s photographs, including others taken in Varanasi.

Rajiv Kapoor, West Bank, Palestine, 2009

Everywhere I wandered in the West Bank, I noticed passion, passion for politics, for statehood, for soccer, for food, for religion, and the list goes on. I decided to photograph a soccer match in a stadium. Originally I intended to capture the facial expressions of the audience when everyone was standing, a moment that I thought would add to the intensity of the scene.  At the moment I clicked the shutter, however, most people sat down and I thought I’d missed the shot. Later, when I looked at the image, I realized the intensity was there in a way I hadn’t imagined, and made for a stronger image.––Rajiv Kapoor

Rajiv’s website

John Masters, Italy, 1992

I was traveling in Italy in 1992.  I had just begun using a second hand Canon AE-1. The film was Kodak Tri-X 400.  I cannot recall the f-stop or shutter speed but I do remember walking through an arch into the plaza and seeing the boy running after the pigeons, causing them to rise up.  I took to picture as fast as I could.  For a long time I bemoaned its graininess, blur and off-centered framing but I loved the look on his face and the movement of his feet.  This is one of my favorite images and reminds me I should always retain my “beginners eye.“––John Masters

John’s website


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