PDN’S CONOR RISCH: In many of the images [in My Dakota] we are looking through something, or there is a reflection, or there is a unique or confounding or even disorienting perspective. What roles do perspective and layering play in your images? Do you intend to briefly disorient the viewer with your compositions?
REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: I photograph very intuitively. Looking at some of these disorienting photographs now ––where it’s difficult to distinguish the background from the foreground, for instance –– I realize that kind of confusion was very much a part of my grief, especially when I was most grief struck.
Those first months after my brother died, my dreams of him seemed more real than when I awoke to a world without him. Added to that, I wasn’t sleeping well and I was traveling alone in parts of South Dakota that I’d never visited. So that difficult time in my life was a blur of motel rooms, back roads, and dreams of my brother.
During that time, I not only felt confused while photographing in South Dakota, but I also felt confused when I returned to Brooklyn to edit the film and to try to make sense of what I’d been doing. I remember showing the work to my friend, Gene Richards, who at that time was traveling back and forth from Brooklyn to the Great Plains to work on his book, The Blue Room. When he asked me how things were coming along with My Dakota, I told him I wasn’t sure what I was doing. He said to me in his soft, gentle voice, “Becky, sometimes confusion is good.”
PDN’S CR: It’s interesting to me that you say in the book that South Dakota’s landscape was one of the few things that eased your unsettled heart, because for me, so many of the photographs in the book are unsettling, and I can’t help but imagine how seeing and photographing some of these things might magnify feelings of heartbreak, sadness and distress. I am not sure there is a question in there… Can seeing and photographing unsettling things help put you at ease?
RNW: I know it seems like a contradiction, but the elegy –– and I consider My Dakota a kind of elegy –– is a traditional, poetic form expansive enough to hold both life and death within it, because ultimately it’s about expressing very alive feelings for someone who is no more. “To grieve is to lament, to mourn, to let sorrow inhabit one’s very being,” notes the poet Ed Hirsch. “ Implicit in poetry is the notion that we are deepened by heartbreaks, that we are not so much diminished as enlarged by grief, by our refusal to vanish –– to let others vanish ––without leaving a poetic record,” he adds.
WOONG-JAE SHIN: You said, “Color is another language.” What does this mean? What does color mean to you in terms of an element of your photography?
ALEX WEBB: Color adds another dimension to my photographic experience of the world. It transforms the image entirely, adding other emotional notes. For example, sometimes a red is a soothing red, sometimes it is a disturbing red. Just imagine the cover of my first book –– an image of a man in a glowing red bar in Grenada –– in black and white, without those vibrant colors. It would be an entirely different visual experience…
WJS: What is street photography? You’ve often said that it’s like gambling and is 90% about failure.
AW: For me street photography isn’t simply about photographing on the street. It’s also about an attitude, a way of approaching the world photographically. It has to do with photographing a place without preconceptions –– or as few preconceptions as possible. It’s about exploration and discovery, not about conscious thought. It’s about finding things in the world, and relationships in the world, that are unexpected. It’s about wandering without extensive rational purpose, allowing the camera and one’s experiences to guide one’s way.
It’s a way of working that relies heavily on serendipity, hence the fact that most of the time the photographs are not successful. The world is the street photographer’s partner and it only gives him or her so many photographs.
THIS INTERVIEW IS AN EXCERPT FROM A Q&A WITH ALEX & REBECCA FOR THE ANNIVERSARY ISSUE OF SOUTH KOREA’S NOTED PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE, “THE MONTHLY PHOTO.”
UPCOMING WORKSHOPS WITH ALEX AND REBECCA
––Friday Oct. 12 thru Sunday Oct. 14: Boston: Weekend Workshop, produced by the Robert Klein Gallery Do you know where you’re going next with your photography –– or where it’s taking you? This intensive weekend workshop will help photographers begin to understand their own distinct way of seeing the world. It will also help photographers figure out their next step photographically –– from deepening their own unique vision to the process of discovering and making a long-term project that they’re passionate about, as well as the process of how long-term projects evolve into books and exhibitions. A workshop for serious amateurs and professionals alike, it will taught by Alex and Rebecca, a creative team who often edit projects and books together –– including their joint book and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition, “Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba,” Alex’s recent Aperture book, “The Suffering of Light,” and Rebecca’s new Radius book, “My Dakota.” Included in the workshop will be an editing exercise as well as an optional photography assignment and long-term project review. For more information –– including how to enroll and daily schedule –– please contact Maja at the Robert Klein Gallery: email@example.com
––FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5TH, 7PM, THRU SUNDAY, OCT. 7TH, 6PM: “Finding Your Vision@ The Dahl Weekend Workshop with Alex and Rebecca Webb,” Rapid City, South Dakota. Do you know where you are going with your photography — or where it is taking you? This workshop will include a gallery talk/walk through of the current “My Dakota” exhibit at The Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, and a digital assistant who can answer any your digital photography issues. Graduate and undergraduate college credit available for teachers and others who are interested. For all Colorado photographers interested in this workshop — or photographers who would like to fly into Denver — please note that Rapid City is only a six-hour drive from Denver, Colorado. For more information click here. If you have questions about the workshop, feel free to contact Rebecca directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TWO NEW WORKSHOPS — JUST ADDED!
—SUNDAY, OCT. 28TH, 10 -5pm, STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP @ MCNY. Please join Alex and Rebecca at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave., for this one-day street photography workshop, which will include an assignment related to the current street photography exhibit at the museum and gallery talk by curator, Sean Corcoran. To find out more information including how to register click here.
—SUNDAY, DEC. 9TH, 10-5PM, MASTER CLASS: MIAMI: A ONE-DAY STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP WITH ALEX WEBB AND REBECCA NORRIS WEBB. A one-day street photography workshop in conjunction with the first Miami Street Photography Festival, which also coincides with Miami Basel Art Fair. (If you wish, you can join a street photography group the day before (Sat., Dec. 8th) and photograph Little Havana, an assignment which the Webb will edit with you on Sunday.) To register and learn more, click here.
UPCOMING EVENTS FOR ALEX AND REBECCA: SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER 2012
––SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 11-11:45: “Here and There: The Photographs of Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb,” South Dakota Festival of Books, Orpheum Anne Zabel Theater, with “My Dakota” and “The Suffering of Light” book signing to follow at 1pm with other festival authors.
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA
–FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 7-8:30pm: “Together and Apart: The Photographs of Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb,” Dahl Arts Center, will include the “Our Dakota” slide show, Q&A with the Webbs, and book signing.
––JUNE-SEPTEMBER 2012: Launch of OUR DAKOTA Flickr site, an online photographic community This Flickr group is open to all photographers 15 and older with a present or past connection to South Dakota. Here is the link to the first assignment. There will be three assignments posted during the course of the “My Dakota” exhibition at the Dahl, and the group will culminate in an “Our Dakota” slide show to be show both at the SD Festival of Books in Sioux Falls the last week in September 2012 and at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City on Friday, Oct. 5th, at 7pm.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 7-8:30 PM: Slide Talk with Alex and Rebecca in the Fort Point arts neighborhood of Boston, a talk which is free and open to the public
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13, 4-5PM: Gallery Talk/Walk Through with Rebecca of her “My Dakota” show with the Robert Klein Gallery at Ars Libri, followed by a Q&A with Rebecca and Alex, who edited “My Dakota” with Rebecca.
OTHER RECENT LINKS FOR ALEX AND REBECCA: