Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Davidson’

POSTINGS: November 2009

November 16, 2009

This month, we’re featuring TWO LINKS about Bruce Davidson and his exhibitions in New York, TWO QUOTES about poetry and photography, and a celebratory TWO VIEWS. –– Alex and Rebecca
Bruce Davidson. Sicily, 1961

Bruce Davidson, Sicily, 1961

TWO LINKS: BRUCE DAVIDSON

I first encountered Bruce Davidson’s work in an issue of Popular Photograph’s Annual in the late 1960’s, an issue that my father, a serious amateur (and occasionally professional) photographer urged on me. My recollection is that the magazine published some of Bruce’s England and Wales project.  Whether it ran one of my favorites of Bruce’s photographs from Sicily (above), a wonderfully spontaneous and lyrical photograph, I don’t recall.

Having been captivated by the Davidson of immediacy, of spontaneity, of grain and occasional blur, I was startled, some years later, to experience the stillness of his East 100th Street work: large format portraits.  I didn’t get it right away.  As the years have passed, however, I’ve come to appreciate the rich and varied poetry of Bruce’s expansive body of work.  He is a photographer’s photographer, in love with the medium itself: a master of grain, of the moment, and of those impeccable textures that only the larger format can give.  He seems to have worked seamlessly in all formats: equally comfortable with the immediacy of the street and the still confrontation of the portrait.

He has two exhibitions up right now in NY that reflect his remarkable photographic range, one at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, one at the Bruce Wolkowitz Gallery.  Here are two links to articles about Bruce and his work, one by Randy Kennedy in The New York Times, and the other by Philip Gefter in The Daily Beast, author of Photography After Frank.––Alex Webb

Link to The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/arts/design/08kenn.html

Link to The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-11-05/bruce-davidsons-true-grit/

BD.poetry

Bruce Davidson, Selma, Alabama, 1965

TWO QUOTES: THE POETIC IMAGE

The photographer and writer Wright Morris once wrote,  “I do not give up the camera eye when writing –– merely the camera.”  Originally a poet and now a photographer, I would say the reverse is also true: “I do not give up the poetic eye with photographing –– merely the pen.”

To see the close relationship between these two sister arts, one only has to look at the root of the word “photography,” which literally means “writing with light.”  Both photography and poetry share a preoccupation with light and time and the elusive moment, so fleeting that one of the few ways to try to grasp it is to hold a book of poetry or photography in one’s hands.

What do people mean when they talk about “the poetic image” in photography?  The two Bruce Davidson photographs above (the first one, one of Alex’s favorites, the second, one of mine) certainly come to mind.

Well, to start to answer this complicated question, one that I will probably revisit from time to time on this blog, I thought I should turn to two poets:  Charles Wright and Charles Simic, former poet laureate of the U.S, who originally was a painter.  Their definitions of poetry rely on two distinct images that are resonant and multiplicitous and evocative –– yet another definition of the poetic image.––Rebecca Norris Webb

Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley. –– Charles Simic

Poetry is the shadow of the dog –– the dog is out there ever on the move. ––Charles Wright

TWO VIEWS: TENTH ANNIVERSARY

When Rebecca and I decided to get married in 1999, we opted for hand-made wedding invitations.  When I looked through my work for the right photograph, this one sprang to mind, and Rebecca agreed wholeheartedly, since it’s also one of her favorites.  Now, ten years later, I still associate this image with our wedding day, the best day of my life.––Alex Webb

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996

Alex Webb, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996

 

Sometimes a poem arrives whole.  This poem is one of those rare birds. It was sparked by an event Alex and I witnessed walking home late one evening from a movie through our Brooklyn neighborhood.  We saw a stranger sitting on his stoop, and he said in a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, as if he were sharing a secret: “Do you want to see Saturn?”

Alex and I quickly exchanged glances, and before we knew it, we were both kneeling on the sidewalk peering through this stranger’s telescope.  Neither of us, we realized, had ever actually seen the sixth and largest planet.  Alex, always the gentleman, let me look first. The next morning, I wrote down what happened.  This poem is for Alex, in honor of our 10th wedding anniversary.––Rebecca Norris Webb

MATRIMONY

for Alex

One night I see Saturn ––

between Ninth and Tenth Street ––

naked and luminous

through the glass.

You look, too:

white orb, the ring

of your laughter.

Floating home, you pull me

into your chest.

I’m light, mercury vapor,

almost yours,

until the mortal woman returns,

all curves and memory,

your arm ringing my waist.

A gift, this distance

we’ve traveled so far.

––Rebecca Norris Webb

BURN MAGAZINE: Alex’s response

October 17, 2009

Here’s an excerpt from Alex’s response today on Burn Magazine to a question raised by photographer Eric Espinosa.  To read all the comments, visit:

http://www.burnmagazine.org/

ERIC ESPINOSA: In a way, Alex has been true to his vision all these years and I am a huge fan but maybe he would have preferred to take his vision into more different directions?

ALEX WEBB: The questions you raise about repetition and reinvention are complicated and difficult for any photographer or artist who has been working for some time.  When does an obsession become stale?  When is one repeating oneself without expanding one’s vision?  In the early stages of one’s work, the changes are often more striking, more evident.  As one works deeper into an obsession, as one hones one’s vision and one’s craft,  the variations are often subtler. For me, some of the questions I’m grappling with are:  Are my variations on my obsessions deepening and expanding my work? Or have I exhausted the tension, the vitality, and the power of these obsessions, so that the work no longer sings?

I sometimes look at other photographers and artists to see how they have grappled with this question.   I think of photographers like Bruce Davidson, or Josef Koudelka, who have changed cameras and sometimes formats for different projects, clearly demarcating divisions between their bodies of work.  Lee Friedlander, on the other hand,  for years (until recently) never changed formats, but his projects seemed fairly unique, though clearly it was the same remarkable eye that created all the images.  And  Cartier-Bresson never changed his approach significantly for all those many years of working (though I do think there is a  difference between the early, more formal and surrealist work  — Italy, Spain, Mexico — and some of the the later work — India, China — which often seems to strike a more worldly, more socio-political note.)  As I was originally a literature major, I also often think of writers and how they have dealt with obsessions.  I sometimes feel with some of my favorite novelists that they have simply written the same book many times over.  It’s only the superstructure that changes: the essential themes, the essential elements remain fairly consistent throughout.  I also often wonder if we as photographers or artists have more than one or two serious obsessions in our life.   Maybe it’s okay to have just one — if indeed it’s rich enough, complex enough, and expansive enough.  In my case, I discovered a certain way of working in color in certain kinds of places and have expanded on that obsession for 30 some years.  Is that enough???  Or does it simply reflect my limitations?  Or are my limitations perhaps ultimately also my strength?I don’t know.  So, these questions that you bring up are ones that bedevil me — especially now, after nearly 40 years of photography.

Though I think you are right that there are certain themes, motifs, tendencies that run throughout my color work, and that some of the notes — especially visual notes — struck in, say, Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds or Under A Grudging Sun, are also struck in my Cuba work, I think that there are emotional notes that I  more consistently strike in Violet Isle that are distinct.  It’s the same photographer, the same eye, but it’s a different place and it’s a different time in life.  In my early work, I think I had a much greater need to directly confront the otherness of the world, to explore that tension, and, as in Under A Grudging Sun, to experience and photograph the violence of the world, specifically Haiti.  The Cuba work is subtler, at times perhaps more lyrical, though often tinged with melancholy (a little bit like my Istanbul work).    Yes, there are photographs in Violet Isle that could have been taken by the Alex Webb of 1986, but the Alex Webb of 1986 could not have produced the totality of this particular body of Cuba work.

Along the same lines, one of the things that appealed to me about the notion of doing a book with Rebecca was that it would be something new, a different kind of book.   I have produced books on Haiti, the Amazon, Florida, the US-Mexico Border — did I just want to do another on Cuba?   I found it very exciting to collaborate with Rebecca, to experiment, to try something different and new.   Furthermore, there have been quite a few very good photography books about Cuba.  Both of us liked the idea of producing this “duet” — a form that inevitably makes Violet Isle a unique kind of book on Cuba.

Ultimately, I don’t have any answers right now about the issues of artistic repetition and reinvention.  After all, a certain level of repetition is not problematic; in fact, the very nature of obsession implies a certain level of repetition.  Certain art forms — most notedly poetry and music — rely heavily on repetition (an obsession is “…a refrain, after all, playing itself again and again in the mind.” –– the poet, Katie Ford.)  I’m not sure what’s next for my work.  Usually I am working on several projects simultaneously, but not so right now (though I have some ideas.)  So we’ll see. I don’t think you’ll see me on the corner with an 8×10 camera anytime soon. But you never know…


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