Posts Tagged ‘Burn Magazine’

BURN MAGAZINE: Rebecca’s Response

October 18, 2009

Here’s an excerpt from Rebecca’s response today on Burn Magazine to a comment by photographer Brian Frank. To read all the comments ––and the Q&A with Alex and Rebecca conducted by David Alan Harvey –– visit:

http://www.burnmagazine.org/

BRIAN FRANK: I would love to hear some of the processes you went through to edit, organize and then find a publisher for the book. I think that could be a wonderful topic of discussion for many people here [on Burn Magazine].

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: Alex and I strongly believe in what we often call “intuitive editing,” in which we try to use the same eye that photographs in a spontaneous and intuitive way as the eye that edits one’s own work intuitively.

For Violet Isle, we didn’t see this as a collaborative project until the spring of last year.  It just so happens, soon after we made this decision, we were scheduled to teach a workshop in Peru, and started working on the edit each afternoon of the workshop when the participants were out photographing.  We started the edit the way we always do when editing each other’s work –– spreading out the photographs (on the floor, on a wall, or on a table) –– and then starting to “play” with them, making relationships with images until they begin to talk to each other formally, poetically, thematically.  We discovered during this Peru workshop that this was an ideal task to complement teaching, since teaching often leaves us quite exhausted, emotionally and creatively, and we often find it difficult to photograph our own projects after spending hours each day talking and looking at other people’s work.  But, as we found out in Peru, during a workshop we also happen to be in the perfect mindset to edit our own work.  In addition, it’s helpful to edit a book away from New York and our hectic schedule and our studio, and those day-to-day details that eat up so much time in a photographer’s life.  Anyway, at the end of the workshop, Alex and I showed the participants our first sequence of what ultimately became Violet Isle, and their comments were extremely helpful.  We finished editing the book in two other workshops –– one in Cadiz, Spain, the other in Venice, Italy.

As far as trying to find a publisher for this rather unusual joint book, we first approached a large, rather traditional art and photography book publisher.  Although there was strong initial interest in Violet Isle, it became clear the project was too off-beat for such a mainstream publisher.  We’d heard about a creative, new small publisher Radius Books –– and had met Darius Himes, one of the publishers –– who’d shown us a beautifully printed book they’d done of Mark Klett’s photographs.  So Alex and I decided to show our Violet Isle book dummy to Darius and the other Radius publishers. Interestingly, the very quality of the work that the larger, more traditional publisher saw as a weakness or detriment –– Violet Isle’s uniqueness –– was the same quality that Radius saw as one of the book’s strengths.

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…

INTERVIEW: David Alan Harvey’s 7 Questions

October 16, 2009

This is an excerpt from today’s interview with us conducted by David Alan Harvey of Burn Magazine: http://www.burnmagazine.org/

DAH: Both of you have heretofore been solo artists. What sacrifices did you make and/or what benefits are there to a collaboration?

AW: From my perspective, the sacrifices were not great. Early on working in Cuba, I envisioned doing my own book, but I also wanted to do something different  –– something unlike any of my past books, as well as something different from any of the many past photographic books on Cuba. When Rebecca and I hit upon the notion of combining our work, this resolved these concerns of mine. I also found it very exciting to weave our two different bodies of work together to create a different kind of portrait of the island. In fact, I am more excited about this book than any other book of mine since Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds, my first book, which came out in 1986.

RNW:  I was initially concerned that my fascination with Cuba was taking valuable time away from a project that I had always thought would be my second book, My Dakota, a project that had started out as an exploration of my relationship with the West––and specifically my home state of South Dakota––and ended up also becoming an elegy for my brother, Dave.  Now, I realize that bringing out the Cuba book before My Dakota was the right decision.  I needed more time and distance from my brother’s death to absorb and distill and let go of My Dakota.

And, David, you also asked about the benefits of doing Violet Isle with Alex….  Well, for one thing, it’s awfully nice having only half as many interview questions to answer.

Next Monday, our blog posting will be: “TWO LOOKS: Charles Harbutt and Joan Liftin”


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