Archive for the ‘Text and Image’ Category

MY DAKOTA: A Special Photograph, A Special Night

June 5, 2012

©Alex Webb, Rebecca’s father at the “My Dakota” opening at the Dahl

It felt right that the first exhibition of “My Dakota” opened in the Black Hills of South Dakota where I grew up.  So many  friends — both old and new — showed up, including Ruth Brennan, the former Dahl director whom the gallery was named after where “My Dakota” is currently on exhibit.  Ruth is an amazing, dynamic woman who was the driving force behind the creation of this wonderful museum and performing arts center in Rapid City.

One of my favorite moments of the evening was photographed by Alex (above)– my 92-year-old dad looking at the photograph of himself that’s in the exhibition, and — just outside the frame — my 85-year-old mom walking not far behind.  A special photograph of a special night that I will long remember.––Rebecca Norris Webb

Link to “My Dakota,” which was recently featured on the New Yorker Photo Booth blog.

Link to “My Dakota” at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, June 1-Oct. 13, 2012.

©Alex Webb, “Lost and Loss” installation of “My Dakota” at the Dahl

UPCOMING EVENTS: JUNE & JULY

NEW YORK

––THURSDAY, JUNE 21, RICCO MARESCA GALLERY, NY: “Weather,” a group exhibition with a selection of photographs from MY DAKOTA, 6-8 pm.  The exhibition runs through August 17.

RAPID CITY, SD

––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.  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.

––TUESDAY, AUGUST 7TH: “Slide Talk with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb” at the “My Dakota” exhibition at the Dahl.  12-1pm.  Check the Dahl website midJune for more details about this free event.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA

SATURDAY, JUNE 9,  AT LOOK3 PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL

4-6pm Alex Webb in conversation with noted writer and cultural critic Geoff Dyer

6-7pm: Book signing with Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, and Geoff Dyer at the Second Street Gallery

9pm: “My Dakota” in the WORKS slide show

SNOWMASS, COLORADO:

TUESDAY, JULY 7-8pm:”Together and Apart: The Photographs of Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb,” Schermer Hall, Anderson Ranch Campus, Snowmass, Colorado.  Q&A with the Webbs and book signing of “The Suffering of Light” and “My Dakota” to follow.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS WITH ALEX AND REBECCA

>Friday evening, Oct. 5, thru Sunday, Oct. 7 pm: FINDING YOUR VISION WORKSHOP @ THE DAHL, Rapid City, South Dakota. Discount for members of the Dahl Arts Center.

Sunday, Oct. 21st through Sat., Oct. 27th, 2012: PROJECT WORKSHOP 2012 @ CAPTION GALLERY, DUMBO, BROOKLYN.  A small intimate workshop where participants spend a week editing and sequencing a long-term project, working on the text for it, and working with a designer on a cover. There will also be presentations about bookmaking including one by a photo book editor or publisher.  Former students are invited to apply, but other photographers will be considered as well.  This small workshop is almost full, so please contact Rebecca as soon as possible if you are interested: rebeccanorriswebb@yahoo.com.

ADDITIONAL LINKS FOR ALEX AND REBECCA:
“My Dakota” on Time Magazine’s Light Box
Alex’s recent work on Treece, a toxic U.S. town, in The New York Times Magazine.
Alex’s interview with Alessia Glaviano for Italian Vogue

See Alex and Rebecca’s photos and others from Magnum’s House of Pictures project in Rochester here

See Rebecca’s My Dakota in progress at Radius Books

Q&A with Rebecca and Sarah Rhodes on Timemachine

To read the Robert Klein Gallery Tripod Blog Q&A with Rebecca.

Read more about Magnum’s House of Pictures project in the New Yorker and see Alex’s photo of the day, April 24th.

Alex’s “The Suffering of Light” exhibition at Forma, Milan, featured in Italian Vogue.

©Alex Webb, “My Dakota” at the Dahl, Rapid City, SD

TWO EVENTS: London

June 13, 2011

Alex Webb, cover of "The Suffering of Light," Thames&Hudson (UK)/Aperture (US), 2011


Hope to see some of you who can make our joint slide talk, “Together and Apart: Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb,” at Host/Foto 8 on Tuesday, June 21st, which will also include a book signing of “The Suffering of Light,” Alex’s new book from Thames and Hudson/Aperture.  It starts at 7 pm, but the doors open at 6:30 pm.  Please leave us a comment if you can join us. 

And we hope our friends in London have a chance to see Alex’s show at  Magnum Print Room at Magnum London, which will be up until July 29th (you’ll find the exhibition hours at the link above.)  Magnum London has some signed books for those who are interested.

Lastly, we enjoyed meeting everyone at our weekend workshop in East London.  Please stay in touch.  In 2012, we plan to do a longer, six-day workshop in East London, probably the first week in July 2012. --Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

UPCOMING PHOTO PROJECT WORKSHOPS WITH ALEX AND REBECCA:

––Book Weekend with Radius Books (and the Webbs):  Friday, Sept. 23, to Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, Santa Fe, NM

–- The Photo Project Workshop: Sunday, Oct. 23, to Saturday, Oct. 29th, 2011, New York

All former Webb Workshop participants are invited to participate, but others will be considered as well.

Rebecca Norris Webb, "Violet Isle" cover, Radius Books

TEXT AND IMAGE: World Poetry Day

March 21, 2011

To celebrate WORLD POETRY DAY, we’ve decided to post one of Rebecca’s prose poems from her first book, “The Glass Between Us,” both in English and in Chinese, the latter thanks to the wonderful translation by fellow photographer and translator, Monica Lin, who is based in Hong Kong.  We are dedicating the poem to all the Chinese photographers we’ve met — both in the Hong Kong workshop, at our Hong Kong slide talk, and through the TWO LOOKS online photographic community.  In addition, since the poem takes place in the Caribbean, we decided to pair it with a relatively unknown photograph of Alex’s from Puerto Rico, which will appear in his new book, “The Suffering of Light.”–=Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Alex Webb, Pinones, Puerto Rico, 1990, from the book "The Suffering of Light"

Reflections: 4

Sailing in the Caribbean, I catch a mahi mahi.  It takes two men to lift its four-foot body from the sea.  On the hot teak deck, I watch the creature shift its tint, from teal to indigo to aquamarine, like having a tiny sea, beautiful and raging, at my bare feet.  As it flips and flops, I feel a little afraid of this great hulking dying thing.  I wish it would fly.  I wish it would be still.  I’m ashamed how hungry it makes me feel.

Within minutes, I slip a piece of deep red sushi between my lips.  The   freshest fish I’ve ever tasted, it is heavy and sweet and otherworldly, like a slice of mango or sex in the sun after swimming in the turquoise Caribbean.  What I hope my own death will taste like.—Rebecca Norris Webb, from the book, “The Glass Between Us”

镜像:4

航行在加勒比海,我捕到一条马头鱼。把这四英尺长的大家伙从海里拖上来竟需要兩個男人。在滚烫的柚木甲板上,我看着這個造物变换颜色,从湖蓝到靛蓝到海蓝,像我赤裸的足邊一處小小的海洋,美丽而狂暴。看着它拍打翻滚的样子,我突然有点害怕这个垂死的大家伙。我希望它飞。我希望它静止。我为自己因它而饥肠辘辘感到羞愧。

几分钟后,一块深红色的生鱼片滑进我的双唇。这是我尝过最新鲜的鱼肉了,它厚实、鲜甜、超凡脱俗,如同一片芒果,又像在宝石般的加勒比海水中暢泳之后開始的性爱。真希望自己的死亡也有同樣的味道—Rebecca Norris Webb, translated into Chinese by Monica Lin, from the book, “The Glass Between Us”

WEBBWORKS: Alex’s Book, Rebecca’s Poem

March 14, 2011

We’re back in Brooklyn, and wanted to give our TWO LOOKS online community the first glimpse of two new WebbWorks:  Alex’s first advance copy of his survey book, THE SUFFERING OF LIGHT, and a new poem Rebecca recently wrote on a ranch in South Dakota for her upcoming book, MY DAKOTA, which is a photographic elegy for her brother, Dave.   Again, we both apologize for our rough, at times out-of-focus homemade videos (Unfortunately, the IPOD touch doesn’t focus very precisely, not to mention Rebecca’s shivering hands in the -15 F Dakota blizzard.)

Alex’s book will be available May 1 from Aperture (US), Thames and Hudson (UK), Contrasto (Italy), and Textuel (France).  We will keep you posted about upcoming book signings and other events in May and June in New York, Madrid, London, Boston, and Charlottesville.—Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

UNBOUND at VERGE ART BROOKLYN

February 14, 2011

Dimitri Mellos, cover of "Its Strangest Patterns"

It’s common to celebrate the birth of a photographer’s new photo book at a gallery exhibition.  Instead, the UNBOUND exhibition at the CAPTION GALLERY — during the inaugural VERGE ART BROOKLYN festival the first week in March this year — celebrates the long and often arduous labor — with its joys and pangs and meanderings — that accompanies the process of making a photo book.  For those who’d like a window into this at times difficult, at times mysterious bookmaking process, please stop by and visit UNBOUND, a show that features the fruits of  the labor of last fall’s intense, intimate, and now annual PHOTO PROJECT WORKSHOP.  The opening reception for UNBOUND will be Thursday, March 3d, from 9-10:30 pm during the first night of the Verge Art Brooklyn, a festival that coincides with the annual Armory Show this year.  The UNBOUND exhibition will run until the end of May 2011.

At the time of this writing, the UNBOUND photographers include DIMITRI MELLOS, NICOLE LECORGNE, FRANK HACK, S.M. MAES, GUILLERMO DE YAVORSKY, SHAUN ROBERTS, CHRIS CHADBOURNE, and JASON TANNER.  We so appreciate their willingness to exhibit a work-in-progress (one framed print and one designed cover or book spread), that we decided to join them, with work from our two upcoming books: Alex’s The Suffering of Light: 30 Years of Photographs (Aperture/T&H UK/Edition, May 2011) and Rebecca’s My Dakota (Radius Books, 2012). There will be more details about the opening on the blog on Monday, February 28th, the week of the VERGE ART BROOKLYN festival.—Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

For more about the next Photo Project Workshop at the Caption Gallery the last week in October, 2011, please visit Alex and Rebecca’s website.  To learn more about their upcoming editing workshop at LOOK3 photography festival in June, please visit LOOK3. For those interested in a photographing workshop, there are two places left in the Barcelona: Finding Your Vision workshop the last week in March. Lastly, here’s the link to the London Telegraph online’s Q&A with Alex and Rebecca.

Nicole LeCorgne, cover of "Divinity Street: The Moulids of Cairo"

 

TWO VIEWS: “The Snow Man”

January 27, 2011

Alex Webb, Brooklyn, 2011

In celebration of last night’s snow storm — and the snowiest January in NYC history — we’re posting some of Alex’s photographs taken early the morning after in our Park Slope neighborhood, accompanied by Rebecca’s reading of Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man,” filmed by Alex.

We’re dedicating the column today to Deborah Baril, Rebecca’s sister, in celebration of another event — her birthday.–– Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

The Snow Man

WALLACE STEVENS

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Alex Webb, Brooklyn, January, 2011

Alex Webb, Brooklyn, January, 2011

Alex Webb, Brooklyn, January, 2011

Alex Webb, Brooklyn, January, 2011

NEW BOOK: The Giants’ Living Room

December 5, 2010

Rebecca and I are very pleased to announce the publication of The Giants’ Living Room by Tone Elin Solholm, a Norwegian photographer and designer who took our workshops in Venice and Barcelona.  Her work –– with the distinctive clarity of its whites and darks and its simultaneous warmth and leanness –– seems to me particularly Scandinavian.  The tones make me think of Bergman’s films — with the cinematography of Sven Nykvist and Gunnar  Fischer.  But, whereas Bergman’s films often seethe with impending doom, Tone’s work only hints at the ominous.  Instead, her lyrical work is suffused with a sense of familial warmth and love, and only occasionally tempered by a cooler note, just enough to remind us that childhood has its own terrors.

Rebecca and I were very pleased to work with Tone on the editing and sequencing of The Giants’ Living Room.  We were especially taken with how her minimalist book design echos the spareness of her photographs.  And Rebecca, who was asked by Tone to contribute a poem last spring, was surprised and delighted that Tone’s work inspired the following prose poem.––Alex Webb

Tone Elin Solholm, cover of "The Giants' Living Room"

Rebecca Norris Webb, prose poem in the book, 'The Giants' Living Room"

Tone Elin Solholm from “The Giants’ Living Room”

Tone Elin Solholm from "The Giants' Living Room"

Tone Elin Solholm from "The Giants' Living Room"

THE GIANTS’ LIVING ROOM is available in both a trade edition of 500 copies (US $39 plus shipping) and a limited edition of boxed books (10 in the edition) that come with two signed prints (24 cm, which is 9.4 inches, on the longest dimension) and costs US$ 350.  To order books, please email Tone at the following email: tone@kairosworks.no

 

Tone Elin Solholm, back cover of “The Giants’ Living Room”


POSTINGS: October 2010

October 18, 2010

This month, we are featuring TWO NEW PUBLICATIONS (including David Alan Harvey’s BURN, which is in print for the very first time), TWO OPENINGS in New York, TWO EVENTS at a brand new photography festival, called INVISION, TWO VIEWS of photographer  JULIE BLACKMON, and a FAREWELL to Canadian writer and photographer, JULIE MASON. –Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

BURN in Print

TWO NEW PUBLICATIONS: BURN and NOMADS

For everyone who has been following Magnum photographer DAVID ALAN HARVEY‘s award-winning online magazine, BURN, there’s now a print edition in the form of a 300-page book showcasing 25 photographers’ work, including ROGER BALLEN, JAMES NACHTWEY, as well many talented emerging photographers.  (Alex and I were honored to be asked to contribute a selection of photographs from VIOLET ISLE, our joint book on Cuba.) You can see a selection of the work — and read James Estrin’s piece — on the New York Times Lens Blog.  To see page samples from the new book, as well as order your own copy of BURNo1 — an edition of only 1,000 copies — visit the BURN web site.

There’s also a new online travel photography magazine with a twist:  the photographers — including ERNESTO BAZAN and ED KASHI — also supply the writing, in the form of journals, poetry, or other text pieces that accompany their images.  Called NOMADS, this beautifully designed, thoughtful, and often visually surprising online magazine is the brainchild of the insightful photographer/educator LAURI LYONS and her talented staff.  –Rebecca Norris Webb

NOMADS online magazine, cover of the first issue

TWO OPENINGS: NEW YORK CITY

Slota/LaBute collaboration, Ricco Maresca Gallery, NY

 

We wanted to note the opening of two exhibitions this week, both on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21.

At RICCO MARESCA GALLERY, photographer GERALD SLOTA collaborates with the playwright, screenwriter, and film director, NEIL LABUTE.  Apparently the two of them met via email and decided to collaborate, creating a series of strange greeting cards, wherein LaBute would attempt to probe Slota’s psyche, and Slota would respond to Labute’s words in the form of images.  Slota’s photographs often push the edge of photographic technique, often distressing the image, by scratching on it or adding to it.  His work can be darkly psychological — as can the work of LaBute, who’s been called “America’s misanthrope par excellence” by the UK’s Independent. You can read more about the Slota/LaBute collaboration in the current issue of Fluence.

At 601 ARTSPACE, ROBERT BLAKE, formerly director of the General Studies Program at ICP, has curated a show of the work of JOE RODRIGUEZ and MARTIN WEBER, entitled “Cultural Memory Matters.” Both these photographers in very different ways have explored some of the issues surrounding cultural identity and heritage.  While Rodriguez, born in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican descent, approaches the world in a traditional documentary manner, photographing life as played out in front of the camera, Weber, from Argentina, often uses text pieces in the images, transforming or qualifying the viewer’s understanding of the photograph.  It should be interesting to see their work side by side.–Alex Webb


Rodriguez/Weber in "Cultural Memory Matters" at 601 ArtSpace

TWO MORE:  THE SHORT LIST

ALIA MALLEY has work in the SHFT New York pop-up gallery show, 112 Greene St., between Prince and Spring Streets, which opens on Thursday, October 21st, from 6-8pm.

RAJIV KAPOOR has an exhibit, “Paradoxes of Living on Holy Land,” at Seattle University’s Vachon & Kinsey Galleries, which is up through December 3.

TWO EVENTS:  New Photography Festival in Pennsylvania

Alex Webb, Palm Beach County, Florida, 1988, from "The Sunshine State"

We hope some of you can join us at a new photography festival, called INVISION, the first weekend in NOVEMBER, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a short drive/bus ride from NEW YORK.  On Saturday evening, November 6, I will show a selection of work — featuring some of Rebecca’s photographs, too — as part of a weekend of photography with presentations by LARRY FINK, NICK NICHOLS, and PETER VAN AGTMAEL.

On Sunday, NOVEMBER 7, Rebecca and I, joined by others from the photography world, will conduct a series of portfolio reviews. (We understand there are only 30 slots available.)–Alex Webb

Rebecca Norris Webb, "After the Fire," Hermosa, SD, 2010, from "My Dakota"

 


TWO VIEWS:  Julie Blackmon

Julie Blackmon, from "Line-Up" exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery, NY

 

If you’re in New York, this is the last week to visit the JULIE BLACKMON show, LINE-UP, at the ROBERT MANN GALLERY, which is up through Saturday, October 23d.   Julie, like me, is the member of a large family — although, unlike me, she is the eldest of nine children, and I’m in the middle of five — and, when looking at her photographs in this exhibition, one can’t help but be transported back to one’s own childhood, with its terrors and its chaos and its comic antics.  Julie’s genius is that this childhood is seen through the prism of the Dutch Renaissance painters, especially Jan Steen’s domestic scenes,  and her beautiful prints are a mix of the staged, the improvised, and the photo-shopped — you can’t get more 21st Century than that!  Her marvelous first book, Domestic Vacations, is a welcome addition to any photographic library.–Rebecca Norris Webb

Julie Blackmon, from "Line-Up" at the Robert Mann Gallery, NY

A FAREWELL:  Julie Mason

Julie Mason by Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen

Alex and I like to think of our photographic workshops as communities, and it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to one of our treasured members, JULIE MASON, who died last weekend of ovarian cancer.  To honor Julie’s long commitment to social justice, health, and women’s issues, here is a video tribute to her from the Canadian House of Commons.

Alex and I had the pleasure of working with her on a long-term photographic project at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as well as with her photographs during the Magnum Workshop in Toronto last May.  Julie, a gifted Canadian writer who was finding her way in her other passion, photography, gave as much — if not more — to Alex and myself, as we probably gave to her.  I was struck by her insights and her compassion and her generosity.  I remember last May after struggling through a presentation of “My Dakota,” an elegy for my brother, Dave, Julie took me aside and quietly mentioned her cancer.  She had not fear in her voice but love.  She was only telling me because she was concerned that her granddaughers, who meant the world to her, wouldn’t remember her.  I told her how important photographs were to my late brother’s two daughers and son.  So, together, we came up with the idea of  a “memory box,” with a mix of her photographs, writings, and momentos of times with her granddaughters to give to each of them.  Whether Julie had the time to create these objects is immaterial.  The memories of Julie, themselves, are the best memory box for any grandchild.

For those who knew Julie, and would like to leave a memory, Alex and I invite you to leave a comment in celebration of her life.  I guess, in a way, this POSTINGS column, is a kind of memory box for Julie.  For spending time in Julie’s presence was a gift to each of us who had the good fortune to have known her — no matter for how long.–Rebecca Norris Webb

MAKING BOOKS: The Photo Project Workshop

August 4, 2010

Alex Webb, Violet Isle book cover, 2009

For photographers working on a long-term project that they are passionate about, consider joining ALEX  WEBB and REBECCA NORRIS WEBB for the PHOTO PROJECT WORKSHOP in New York the last week in October.  One scholarship (reduced tuition) is available for a full-time photography student who is currently working on an undergraduate or graduate photography degree anywhere in the world.  For more information about the workshop, please visit WEBB WORKSHOPS.  Currently, there are only two places left in the workshop.  Hope you can join us.– Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Alex Webb, "Istanbul" book cover

Rebecca Norris Webb, "The Glass Between Us" book cover


TWO QUESTIONS: On Beginnings and Endings

June 1, 2010

We’re bidding farewell until next fall with TWO QUESTIONS about the beginnings and endings of photography books.  SERGE MAES, a Belgian photographer and psychologist who attended our Barcelona workshop this spring and is working on the long-term project, “Any Given Day,” asks us how photography books begin and how they evolve along the way. West Coast photographer, ALIA MALLEY, who’s attended two of our workshops–– one in the U.S. and one in Cuba –– asks us about endings, a question very much on her mind as she finishes her MFA and is exhibiting work from her series, “Southland,” at an L.A. gallery this summer.  (See below for more information about both Serge and Alia). –– Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb

MAKING BOOKS:  ON BEGINNINGS AND MEANDERINGS

Alex Webb from "Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names"

SERGE MAES:  “Alex/Rebecca, could you elaborate on how your book projects have started out (did they start out with a vague idea, with a particular interest in a topic or place, with a preconceived aesthetic notion,…) and on any influences or decisions that may have changed the direction the projects were heading in?”

ALEX WEBB: I often am  unaware of the genesis of a project, sometimes remaining skeptical of its possibilities until I am well into the project.   The process of looking at the photographs, of playing with them, of making juxtapositions and sequences, usually leads me to begin to understand what it is that I am working on.  The process of photographing and editing  becomes a process of self-revelation, a simultaneous exploration of the world and the self.

To give you two examples:  my first book, Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds, began as an obsession, a passion for photographing in certain kinds of places — loosely speaking, the tropics — places where intense vibrant color seemed somehow embedded in the culture, unlike the gray-brown world of my New England background.  I had no intention of making a book when I began photographing  Haiti,  other parts of the Caribbean, northern Mexico, and sub-Saharan Africa.  But, as I started to look at the photographs that I had been producing in these places and began to put them side by side I began to realize that despite the vast cultural and historical differences between these various worlds there were links, links of emotion, links of sensation, links of atmosphere, that somehow allowed me to leap over cultural and historical differences and make a book that existed on another plane — a more poetic and atmospheric plane — in which though there were socio-political rumblings, they were only just that — rumblings.  The heart of the book lay somewhere else, in a more metaphysical realm.

Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names began somewhat differently.   I had a photographic assignment in 1998 to go to Turkey to photograph in several locations, including Istanbul.  When I arrived in Istanbul in 1998 I had a kind of revelation: I had returned to the city that I had visited 30 years earlier for a day with my family as a teenage photographer.  But whereas in 1968 I had been overwhelmed with the exoticism of a culture so unlike my own, in 1998 I found something strangely familiar, a kind of border.  In those intervening years I had been drawn to borders, places where cultures come together, sometimes easily, sometimes roughly.  Istanbul, both Asian and European, Eastern and Western, Islamic and secular was another kind of border.  I rapidly realized that I had to return to Istanbul and continue photographing, which I managed to do over the subsequent seven years.  So one could in fact say that the roots of the Istanbul book, unbeknownst to me at the time, lie in the trip that I made as a teenager in 1968.

Ultimately for the me, the process of creating a project remains somewhat mysterious.  Projects move forward on inexplicable happenings and impulses.  How they begin, how they end remains couched in enigma.  This is part of what I find exciting about the process.

REBECCA NORRIS WEBBMy current work-in-progress, My Dakota, started out as a photographic exploration of South Dakota, the sparsely populated Great Plains state where I grew up, and a place, to quote the Nebraskan photographer Wright Morris, where the Great Plains “…grew up in you.”  A year later, my brother died unexpectedly, and the project also evolved into an elegy for him.

How can My Dakota be about the American West and also be an elegy for my brother?  This is one of those questions that prod me and humble me.  I don’t know the answer.  I don’t know if I ever will.

I do know that the question itself has provoked me to reread some of my favorite elegies, not necessarily to find an answer, but hopefully to stumble upon a different way of looking at the question, perhaps viewing it from a “slant,” to quote Emily Dickinson.

So, between my photographic trips to South Dakota this past winter and spring, I’ve been rereading Emily Dickinson’s and Walt Whitman’s elegies.  In some of these elegies, Death seems to venture West along with the explorers and the prairie schooners.  In Whitman, Abraham Lincoln’s corpse heads West on the funeral train, and, in Dickinson’s famous elegy, “Because I could not stop for Death,” Death and the poet also journey West –– sharing the carriage with a third passenger, Immortality.

If nothing else, rereading these elegies reminds me of just how long the Western landscape has inhabited the American psyche – those wide open spaces, those fruited plains, those seemingly endless skies ––as a place of both death and hope, transience and immortality, whether we’re talking about Manifest Destiny in the 19th Century or the environmental movement today.

This meandering process –– being prodded by a question, rereading poetry, continuing to travel from New York to South Dakota to photograph–– has lead, if not to an answer to my question exactly, then at least to something unexpected: Lately I’ve managed to write a few spare lines, which may or may not accompany the My Dakota photographs.  Perhaps that’s as much of an answer as I can expect…

MAKING BOOKS:  ON ENDINGS

Rebecca Norris Webb from "My Dakota"

ALIA MALLEY:  Alex and Rebecca, I’ve been wondering, “How do you know when a project is “finished”…?”  It’s something I’ve been asking myself a lot recently, as I’m starting to work on a new project while still continuing to work on another project still.

RNW:  As with any relationship in your life, each photography project or book ends in its own way.  Some end more organically or naturally; others end rather abruptly or completely unexpectedly.  Each project has its own rhythm.

That said, I have found that there are a few signs that a book or project may be ending.  I often slow down at the end of a project, and don’t find myself taking as many photographs as at the beginning.  The curiosity and visual excitement ebb, too.  .If I happen to be working on another project simultaneously, that second project tends to pull at me more strongly than one I’ve nearly finished.

Right now, I’m in the midst of finishing the My Dakota project.  It’s been the most challenging project to date to complete for me, probably because it’s also my most personal project, since it’s an elegy for my brother.  I still feel something is missing in the sequence, but I’m not entirely sure what that is.  I suspect it may be the final sequence of the book itself, which, is quite different from my past two books whose middle sequences were the last I photographed.

I’ve gotten somewhat used to the notion that making books is ultimately a very intuitive process, and I am learning to trust this more and more.  For instance, a couple of weeks ago this line came to me, seemingly out of the middle of nowhere:  “In a deep loss, something inside you is broken, and slowly – through the cracks and the gaps and the jagged openings – you begin to see the light again.”

After I read this line during a slide talk in Toronto recently, one of the photographers in Alex’s and my workshop thoughtfully said to me:  “Maybe that’s the key to the ending of the book.  The light.  You end in the light.”  Her words made me smile.  She may very well be right.  If you’re open enough, books, I’m learning, try to let you know – often in rather roundabout ways — how and when they are finished with you.

AW: Knowing when a personal project is completed is one of the more difficult and challenging decisions I face as a photographer.  More than anything else, I rely on a kind of gut feeling — a sense of emotional completion.  But what that really means is inevitably elusive.  Different projects seem to have utterly different arcs of completion, arcs whose duration remains unpredictable.  I will give a couple of examples.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1987, a bit more than a year after I had been photographing post-Duvalier Haiti, that I began to sense that a Haiti book was in the making.  I started to put together a rough dummy of the work to try to understand what I had been doing, and how it might become a book.  That fall, as the November elections approached, I returned to Haiti.  As political tensions began to simmer, the country descended into a spiral of violence.  A reign of terror spread over the streets of Port au Prince, as dead bodies appeared in doorways each morning, burning barricades dotted the streets, and markets were torched.  Ultimately, the elections were destroyed, as paramilitary gunmen in Port au Prince shot down voters.  In Gonaives, where I was photographing, the gunmen blew up the town the night before.  No one dared go to the polls.

When I returned to the US a book on Haiti seemed utterly irrelevant.  What was the point of a book in the face of this violent destruction of Haiti’s aspirations toward democracy?  What was a book going to do?  But as time passed, as I looked at the pictures more, and especially after returning to Haiti for the next round of elections in January 1988 –  elections that were fundamentally fraudulent in installing the army’s candidate –  I began to sense that perhaps there was something in a book after all, some kind of document that tried to make sense of this troubled time.  A period of Haiti’s history — the cycle of electoral violence, from the fall of Duvalier to the installation of his short-lived successor Leslie Manigat  — had closed.  And I finally felt ready — emotionally as well as intellectually — to close this chapter of my relationship with Haiti as well.

With my project on the US-Mexico Border, however, I never entertained a sense of urgency of completion.  I photographed along the US-Mexico border for the first time in 1975, photographing in black and white.  For the next 26 years I continued to return to the border, shifting in 1979 from black and white to color.  Somehow, it was a project that I couldn’t complete — didn’t want to complete.  Other projects, other books — From the Sunshine State, Amazon, Dislocations — came and went.  It was only in 2001, after a trip to the Arizona border, that I was finally able to let go.

Completing a book cuts something off.  I  return to the same place without the same sense of obsession, without the same sense of passion.  For those 26 years I simply wasn’t willing to let go of the border.  I still occasionally wonder if I let go of the project at the right time.

SERGE MAES

Serge Maes from "Any Given Day"

I was born in 1976 in Sint-Niklaas, a small city in Belgium. About 8 years ago, I moved to Antwerp where I’ve been living ever since. I work as a clinical psychologist in a therapeutic community for people with personality disorders and in my own private practice.

Photography never held much interest for me until a few years ago, when my girlfriend who is a hobbyist photographer couldn’t come with me on a trip to Stockholm and asked me to take some pictures for her with a disposable camera she bought at the airport. Having only 24 pictures at my disposal I was very focused to get every picture right. Engaging the world in a visual way turned out to be such an involving experience that when I got back from Stockholm I decided to take up photography myself.

Among other things I’m working on a book project on city life with the working title “Any Given Day.” Photography to me is not so much about conveying a message as it is about the excitement of capturing that one fleeting moment in which everything seems to interconnect.

My website: www.statikon.com

ALIA MALLEY

Alia Malley from "Southland"

ALIA MALLEY (b.1973) was born in California, and raised in Portland, OR.  She received her BA in Critical Studies from USC School of Cinema Arts, and her MFA from UC Riverside in 2010.  She lives and works in Los Angeles.

Her series Southland won the 2010 Merck Award at the Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie, and will be shown at a solo exhibition at Sam Lee Galley, May 22-July 3, 2010.  She was a 2009 Runner Up at the Forward Thinking Museum/JGS, and a Finalist/Honorable Mention at the Newspace Center for Photography’s 2008 Juried Exhibition, curated by TJ Norris.  She has participated in group exhibitions including the 2009 CAA Los Angeles MFA Exhibition, curated by Alex Klein, and Sculpting Time at the Martin Art Gallery, Muhlenberg College, curated by Ara Osterweil. Her MFA thesis exhibition was on view at the California Museum of Photography, Riverside, CA until May 15, 2010.

www.aliamalley.com


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