Archive for April, 2010

TWO CITIES: TORONTO and NEW YORK

April 30, 2010

Alex Webb, Gonaives,Haiti, 2000

Hope you can join us on Tuesday, May 4th, at Ryerson University in TORONTO for our joint lecture, “Together and Apart,” which is one of four evening lectures featured during the first week in May at the MAGNUM WORKSHOP at THE CONTACT PHOTO FESTIVAL (Wednesday’s lecture is by Costa Manos, Thursday’s lecture is by Alec Soth, and Friday’s lecture is by Stuart Franklin; all lectures are at 7pm).

For our lecture, Alex will show work from his second book on Haiti (“Under a Grudging Sun”) and work from his seventh book, “Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names,” which Rebecca photo-edited.  Rebecca will show a selection of photographs from her first book, “The Glass Between Us,” as well as images from her work-in-progress in the American West, “My Dakota.”  We’ll also show work from our joint book on Cuba, “Violet Isle.”–Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Rebecca Norris Webb, Sheep Mountain, S.D., 2010

NEW YORK: Richard Sandler, Street Photographer and Filmmaker

If you’re in New York the first week in May, consider joining RICHARD SANDLER at the opening reception of his exhibition, “THE FORMER NEW YORK: Photographs from the 1980′s.” The reception is at the Millennium Film Workshop from 6-8pm on Thursday, May 6th, at 66 E. 4th St. (between 1st and 2nd Ave.) in the East Village.  Afterwards, there will be a free screening of Richard’s documentary film about the East Village, “Brave New York.”

Below is what Richard, an insightful and funny street photographer and filmmaker and one of my first teachers at ICP, has to say about “The Former New York” photographs.–Rebecca Norris Webb

Richard Sandler, "CC train," 1985

“The photographs in this show were made between 20 and 30 years ago and they depict a time that lives in limbo: they are too young to be the historical records of the fuzzy past, and way too old to resemble contemporary culture, now moving at warp speed. These pictures of the recent past reveal a time just before the proliferation of computers, cell phones, I pods, digital cameras and the internet; there was no way to filter the realities of the broken city, and there was no refuge in virtual space.

For better and for worse one was simply  ‘on the street,’ in public space, bathing in the comforts, (or terrors), of the human sea. In the New York subways, graffiti tags and spray painting exploded onto every surface and whole subway cars were ‘bombed,’ windows and all. Above and below ground, crime and crack were on the rise, rents were still cheap, Times Square and the East Village were drug riddled, while in mid-town the rich wore furs in unprecedented numbers, Ronald Reagan was president, ‘greed was good,’ and Y2K hysteria was approaching.

To some, the New York City of the recent past was a hell on Earth, yet to others it was one of New York’s most fertile artistic periods. I suggest that the meanings and motives of this period are not yet clear enough to articulate, and I offer these photographs as the marbled evidence of beauty mixing with decay, and as questions about city life itself. ” –Richard Sandler

VIOLET ISLE: Review in Orion Magazine

April 25, 2010

Alex Webb, Havana, 2000, from "Violet Isle"

“Collaborative photography books are difficult to pull off –– maybe even more so by a husband-and-wife team, and especially when each is offering pictures (as opposed to one providing the text.)  Pick a popular, well-photographed subject like Cuba for even more of a challenge.  Violet Isle (Radius Books, 2009), by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, easily overcomes these difficulties.  Made from 11 trips to Cuba over 15 years, the book alternates between his and her images almost page by page, mixing Rebecca’s painterly vignettes with Alex’s harder-edged narrative into a single, deep, organically cohesive vision of this iconic island.” –– Orion Magazine, May-June 2010 issue, page 71

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, 2008, from "Violet Isle"

OUTSIDE THE FRAME: Alex and Rebecca

April 19, 2010

For the new issue of VISURA, an online magazine of photography and writing featuring established and emerging photographers, we decided to try something we’ve never attempted before: In the spirit of a duet, we have paired photographs from our joint book, VIOLET ISLE, with stories we wrote about what lies “outside the frame.” On the VISURA site, there’s also a slide show of some 20 images from Cuba, some of which have never appeared online.

So, for our first OUTSIDE THE FRAME column, we decided to extend this notion of a duet of text and images by adding two audio files to this blog posting  (click on the arrows below the first two photographs to hear some of the text pieces featured in the 9th issue of VISURA).  Lastly, Rebecca has also included a second photograph from Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, heretofore unpublished online, a portrait of the man she met and talks about in her audio piece.—Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Alex Webb, "Cienfuegos, Cuba, 2007" from the book, "Violet Isle"


Rebecca Norris Webb, "Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, 2008" from the book, "Violet Isle"


Rebecca Norris Webb, "Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, 2008," from "Violet Isle"

POSTINGS: April 2010

April 8, 2010

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Torcello, 1953

TWO VIEWS:  Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Cartier-Bresson show that just opened at MOMA is a very different kind of exhibition than the last one that I saw at the museum.  That prior show concentrated on his early work, his surrealist-influenced street photography of the thirties, largely from Europe.   This new exhibition concentrates on his entire work.  Though the early photographs are represented –– and indeed there are a few extremely early images that I am utterly unfamiliar with –– the show largely focuses on the later, more journalistically oriented work from all over the world.  There are examples of many of the magazines that published his work from this era, and there is a set of astonishing maps, representing an incredible amount of research, that track Cartier-Bresson’s wanderings throughout the world.

Though I remain personally most excited by the early, more lyrical work — it was so pure, so visionary, such a special moment in the history of photography ––  it is fascinating to see the broad spectrum of his oeuvre, including many images that I was unaware of.  And there are certainly some gems to discover:  I was particularly taken with this image from Torcello (above). I may well have seen it before but now, thanks to this new exhibition, it is burned into my memory.––Alex Webb

“In a portrait, you are looking for the silence in somebody.”––HCB

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”––HCB

Above, I selected TWO QUOTES by the late great Cartier-Bresson, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Paris a few years before he died.  In addition, I’m also including links  to two interviews with him –- one a TV interview with Charlie Rose of PBS and, the other, a radio interview with Susan Stamberg of NPR.

And, lastly, here are TWO LINKS to reviews of the current MOMA show, one by the New York Times art critic, Holland Cotter and the other by Philip Gefter of The Daily Beast, which includes a slideshow of some of Cartier-Bresson’s most iconic images.–– Rebecca Norris Webb

TWO RARE BIRDS: BARB and HELEN

Rebecca Norris Webb, Barcelona, 2010

Last month at the Barcelona Zoo, I was thinking about a good friend of my parents, Barb, a lover of birds, who had died recently in my hometown in South Dakota. I’ll always remember my last visit in February with Barb and her husband Don, the couple surrounded by a menagerie of assorted birds, dogs, cats and ferrets.  Bird-thin from the cancer, Barb was holding one of her prized cockatiels close to her chest, and –– like always –– her chief concerns were about her many rescued creatures, not about herself.

So, in the Barcelona Zoo last month, I couldn’t help but think of Barb as I photographed this caged cockatiel (above), while outside my frame –– above the bars and the glass and the zoo’s many fences –– the largest nesting colony of gray herons in Spain was flying free.––Rebecca Norris Webb

Helen Levitt, New York City, 1988

When I first moved to New York in the late 1980’s, Helen Levitt was one of my favorite photographers, and continues to be so, today.  Known predominantly for her black-and-white photographs of children in New York City, she also worked some in color.  Above is a rare bird for me personally, a photograph I’d never seen until recently.

When I look at this image, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic for a couple of reasons:  It’s a photograph taken of the once ubiquitous icon of the New York City street –- the phone booth–– this one crammed with mother and children.  And secondly, because it was taken on the now extinct Kodachrome film.––RNW

DARK HORSE: Louis Faurer –– Text and Images

Louis Faurer, Self portrait, New York, 1947

Some photographers seem to fall through the cracks of photographic history.  Such seems to have been the case for a time with Louis Faurer.  When I was a young photographer, no one ever mentioned Faurer’s work.  In the late 70′s, after moving to NY, I began to see some of his images, images that I found intriguing, evocative.  I’ve seen more over the years and have always been excited by the uniqueness of his eye.  But until Rebecca recently returned from Houston Fotofest with a book of his collected photographs –– with a fine introduction by Anne Wilkes Tucker of the MFA, Houston ––I didn’t really have a sense of the scope of his work.

Most of the Faurer work that I had seen over the years reminded me a bit of that of Robert Frank (not necessarily surprising, in that they were apparently close friends):  that sense of immediacy, of being inside a poetic moment, often captured a little off-kilter.   As with Frank’s work, with Faurer’s work there is often a strong sense of freedom to the camera. Situations are seen through glass, through reflections, through car windows.  At times, the seeing seems to look towards the later complexities of Friedlander — though consistently striking a more lyrical note.  And for me, personally, this is the side of Faurer’s work that I am particularly sympathetic to.  However, what surprised me most in looking at this book of his work was its variety.  There seems to be a willingness to experiment, to move in different directions, to try new approaches.  For alongside the more spontaneous off-kilter street pictures are more conventional portraits as well as negative sandwiches.  There are echoes of Lisette Model, Arbus, and even Maholy-Nagy.  Perhaps it was simply a fertile time in American photography, when photographers felt particularly free to explore.––Alex Webb

Louis Faurer, Accident, New York, 1952, Gitterman Gallery

IN HIS OWN WORDS: The Photo Not Taken

The MFA Houston book of Faurer’s work by the insightful and thoughtful Anne Wilkes Tucker, includes a wonderful passage from a letter written by the photographer to the then editor of Camera Magazine, Allan Porter, in December 1974.  Faurer, who was known, among other things, for his sympathetic photographs of people on the fringes of society, reflects on an incident in which he missed a photograph of a destitute man in the New York subway.  Interesting how sometimes the photo not taken gives us a different kind of picture of a particular photographer’s process, body of work, and even, sometimes, as with the passage below, his humanity.—Rebecca Norris Webb

Slowly I walked down the slope leading to the second lower level platform.  Was it because I was not courageous that resulted in a miss?  Because I could not further humiliate him?  Was this cadaver-like man with no direction beyond the need for food, thought, and love?  Again, the thought came to my mind, was I cowardly?  Had I become a counterpart to this man?  Hadn’t I been pacing, darting aimlessly, without direction, like the man?  Later I related the incident to several people.  I said, perhaps I thought I was he, maybe I was afraid of myself, but I wanted to think that he had experienced so much pain and anguish that additional injury to his once felt dignity was not possible and that I could not risk accepting the guilt.  Or maybe from way back I heard Walker Evans once say to me, “You wouldn’t photograph a fat woman, would you?” and he might have added “and hurt them?—Louis Faurer


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