Posts Tagged ‘Making Books’

On Press: My Dakota 2

March 10, 2012

Dr. Stork, 1915

As I am preparing emotionally and mentally to be on press tomorrow, I can’t help but think of the metaphor of childbirth with regards to bringing a new book into the world.  Perhaps it’s because I come from a long line of doctors –– my father is fifth generation doctor, my younger sister, sixth generation — but I don’t see myself as the mother, but as the midwife or the doctor, attending to the work, helping to deliver the work into the world,  Perhaps that’s also because this new book, as personal as it is for me, isn’t me.  It’s wiser than I am.  It’s more than I am.  It’s more important than I am.  

My task these next few days on press –– along with the book’s designer and Radius”s creative director, David Chickey, and Alex, who helped me sequence the photographs –– will be to try to deliver the work into the world, and to deliver it alive, as the poet Ezra Pound once said about poetry.  Isn’t that always the task:  To keep enough of the flaws and the contradictions and the cracks and the complexity and the tensions in a book, which are a book’s life’s blood?  Or perhaps I just like the irony of using the metaphor of childbirth in a book that deals with death…––Rebecca Norris Webb

Alex Webb, "Rebecca writing, 2012"

Alex Webb, "Rebecca writing, 2012"

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

TWO CITIES: Boston and Toronto

March 24, 2010

Alex Webb, Bombardopolis, Haiti, 1986, from "Under a Grudging Sun"

Please join us for our lecture, “Together and Apart,” in BOSTON on Wednesday, March 31st, at 6:30 pm at Northeastern University, a talk which is part of the school’s spring lecture series, “Interventions.”

The slide talk will feature a selection of photographs from our joint book, Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba. In addition, we’ll also discuss other bodies of work, including some books we’ve worked on together –– such as Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names (photographs by Alex; photo-edited by Rebecca) –– and some books we’ve worked on individually, such as The Glass Between Us (Rebecca’s first book), which explores the complicated relationship between people and animals in cities, and Under a Grudging Sun (Alex’s second book), which is a portrait of Haiti in a time of crisis.  The event is open to the public, and there will be a book signing afterwards with copies of Violet Isle available.–Alex and Rebecca

For location and other details please visit Magnum’s EVENTS PAGE.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Istanbul, 2003, from "The Glass Between Us"

Our TORONTO workshop the first week in May, which is part of the Magnum Workshops at the Contact Photography Festival, is now full.  If you’d like to have your name added to the waitlist, please visit Magnum’s website. Deadline is Wednesday, March 31st.–Alex and Rebecca

TWO QUESTIONS: On Framing and Philosophy; On Multimedia and Text/Image Synergy

February 17, 2010

This month, we have TWO QUESTIONS from Japanese photographer and editor, HIROSHI YAMAUCHI, his first question about how Alex frames his photographs and his second one about how Rebecca thinks about the marriage of text and images in photography books. Next, our second featured photographer, OLGA KRAVETS from Russia, asks Rebecca about which comes first in her photographic process –– the idea or the image –– and then questions Alex about how he feels about the  expansion of photography into the world of multimedia, and the challenges that places on photographers today. You can learn more about Hiroshi and Olga at the end of this column, which also includes links to their work.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

ON THE FRAME’S ANATOMY; ON TEXT/IMAGE SYNERGY

Alex Webb, Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1990

HIROSHI YAMAUCHI:  Alex, when you come across a situation and “smell” the possibility of a good photo, do you run an anatomy of the scene first to divide spaces in your finder for what could happen?  It’s almost as if you precisely choreograph the elements in each of your frames.

ALEX WEBB: Saying “run an anatomy of the scene” makes the process sound highly analytical.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  My process is not about thought, not about analysis, but rather about feeling the totality of a scene and responding intuitively, emotionally, non-rationally.  I have sometimes used the word “smell” in this context (and I think I am paraphrasing Cartier-Bresson) specifically because smell is sensory, not rational.    The process can be a bit mysterious.  When I photograph, I sense the possibility of something — something about the feel of a place, the situation, some impending moment, the light, the color, the space, the shapes — and I often hang out and wait, hoping that something will happen, something will emerge.  But I’m never sure quite what this something is.  For me, the elements that go into the picture are often emotional elements: not just what is in fact “happening” in a situation (the purported “subject” of the image), but the space, the color, the light.  Form isn’t just form, it can be emotion.  Color isn’t just color for color’s sake, it, too, carries emotion.  Sometimes a shape in the foreground becomes some kind of transformative element, sometimes an empty space strikes a special emotional note, sometimes the color changes what wasn’t an evocative scene into something very different… Ultimately I never know what it is that I am going to find, and just how the world will surprise me.

HY: Rebecca, do you design your creative writing to play certain roles in your visual presentation as a whole?  Do you feel a good marriage of writing and photography can generate synergy, like a good meal with good wine?

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: Originally a poet, I’ve long been interested in the relationship between text and images, and how the two can illuminate each other.  For me, it’s one of my chief obsessions, something I hope to explore with each of my photography books.  In some ways, when the relationship between text and images works well, it is like a good marriage or a good meal, where the different elements complement each other, sometimes creating a kind of synergy that’s stronger than the separate elements individually.  Ultimately, it’s about striking the right balance, so that one form doesn’t overpower the other.  That said, I don’t think all books call for a lot of text –– some books just need enough to point the reader/viewer in the right direction.  In my opinion, part of power of the photography book –– and one way it is like poetry –- is its ability to suggest complex themes and ideas, yet leave enough space for the viewer/reader to have his or her own unique experience of the work.

Since we are talking here about the photography book, I think the visual element has to be considered when thinking about the text.  For my first book, The Glass Between Us, my designer, Astrid Lewis Reedy, and I decided to place the text pieces, which I called “Reflections,” either across from a blank page or opposite another text piece, as way of creating a kind of pause visually for the reader/viewer, hopefully as a way of echoing the kind of reflective state of mind one feels when looking at the creatures in a aquarium or zoo — philosophically or psychologically or emotionally or humorously or, sometimes, all of the above.  After visiting a zoo, the poet Charles Simic once wrote, “…I noticed many animals who had a fleeting resemblance to me.”

ON PHILOSOPHY & PHOTOGRAPHY; ON MULTIMEDIA

Rebecca Norris Webb, Hot Springs, South Dakota, 2009

OLGA KRAVETS: Rebecca, your projects seem to me very philosophical: There is much that your pictures make me think of, after I go through them. When you develop the idea of a photo project, do you know in advance what your pictures would look like, what and where you would shoot, etc.? Will an unexpected picture find its place in the final layout of a book?

RNW: My work is first and foremost a collaboration with the world.  I’ve learned over the years to have faith in those images that speak most insistently to me, first when I encounter them in the world when photographing, and, secondly, when I come across some of them again when editing, those rare birds that continue to resonate in me in a rich and complicated way –– emotionally, philosophically, poetically, politically –– with something akin to a kind of hum:  the hum of life and death, the hum of beauty and suffering, the hum of praise and lamentation, the hum of the world.

So, I guess you could say that I follow these resonant images to the complex idea or ideas underlying the particular book I’m working on, not the other way around.  “The image is an idea, a true idea, an earlier idea than a concept,” says the poet Li-Young Lee, and I agree wholeheartedly with him.  When I work, I try to stay as open as I can throughout the entire process of photographing a project:  I don’t know before I go out to photograph what image I will find, and many of my photographs that end up in one of my books –– at both the beginning and the end of a project –– are unexpected ones.  That’s part of the excitement of working on a long-term photography project: you never know when or where you’ll come across your strongest photographs.  As a fiction writer once said about his creative process:  If I knew how a story would end before I wrote it, what’s the point of writing it?

OG: Alex, you started photography in the pre-digital era, when a photographer was just a photographer, so what do you think of the industry today, when one, willing to become successful, has to be a jack-of-all-trades — shoot not only stills, but also video, write text, record sounds, and, finally, also produce a quality multimedia piece?

AW: You are right that photographers seem to be asked to do more today by the industry than in the past.  However, I should remind you that photographers have rarely been “just photographers.”  The process of making a book of photographs — conceiving, editing, and sequencing (sometimes even designing) — has always demanded all kinds of other skills beyond just being a photographer.  Photographers used to always print their own photographs — sometimes an arduous task, potentially as time-consuming as some of the activities that you describe.  What is different is that now photographers are increasingly being asked sometimes to step outside of the vocabulary of still imagery into other fields — video and sound.  I personally remain deeply involved in the specific language of still images — books and exhibitions — but I think there are some very exciting possibilities in the realm of multimedia.  For the latter to be successful, a vocabulary has to be developed that is significantly different than either still photography or the moving image — so that in looking at the multimedia piece one is not reminded of what it isn’t — still photographs or film/video — but of what it is — a presentation that partakes of both kinds of media but is, in reality, its own unique medium.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, Beijing, 2007

Hiroshi Yamauchi was born in Osaka, Japan in 1974. After studying political science and international relations, he entered the School of Visual Communications at Ohio University.  Hiroshi worked at the Anchorage Daily News and other U.S. newspapers, returning to Japan in 2000 to work for a wire service.  In 2006, he freelanced for domestic and international newspapers and magazines, and in 2007 joined a photography quarterly,  81Lab. Magazine, which he now co-runs.

Hiroshi’s website:  http://www.wow-photo.jp

81Lab. Magazine website: http://www.81lab.com

Olga Kravets, Primorsk, Russia, 2009

Olga Kravets, a freelance photographer based in Moscow, has worked for Berlingske Tidende (Denmark), Dagsavisen (Norway), Financial Times Deutschland (Germany), Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), Kristeligt Dagblad (Denmark), Observer (UK), Tank Magazine (UK), The Globe and Mail (Canada), Throw (Netherlands), among others.  In 2009, she was a finalist for The Aftermath Project grant, and top-10 winner of the competition, “Young Photographers of Russia.”  Olga is the author of the photography projects,  “Primorsk. The Sunken Soviet City” and “Heroes of Karabakh.”  Her work has been included in several group exhibitions in Russia and Norway.

Olga’s website: http://www.olgakravets.com

POSTINGS: JANUARY 2010

January 4, 2010

This month’s column includes MAKING BOOKS, highlighting our upcoming slide talk and book signing featuring Violet Isle and three other books, TWO QUOTES from noted book publishers Lesley Martin (Aperture) and Darius Himes (Radius) about the future of the photo book, and, lastly, TWO LINKS, which is a farewell to photographer Larry Sultan who died last month.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

MAKING BOOKS: SLIDE TALK AND BOOK SIGNING

Alex Webb, Barrio Chino, Cuba, 2007

This Thursday, join us for a slide talk featuring four of our books and two unpublished projects in the East Village at the Sidewalk Cafe, 94 Avenue A at Sixth Street (take the V or F to the Second Avenue Stop). The hour-long talk is part of the PROSE PROS series and will start promptly at 6:30, and ends at 7:45pm.  We’ll have  a few copies of Violet Isle, The Glass Between Us, and the out-of-print, Under a Grudging Sun (Haiti) available for the signing afterwards. Hope to see some of you there. –– Alex and Rebecca

For more information about this event, visit Magnum’s Events page.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Faith, South Dakota, 2009

TWO QUOTES: LESLEY MARTIN AND DARIUS HIMES

Over the past month, there’s been a lively online discussion about the future of the photo book, including what it may look like in 10 years and whether it will be digital or physical (you only have to visit Alex’s and my Park Slope brownstone to see where our sympathies lie: We have a collection of over 2000 photo books).

Below are TWO QUOTES excerpted from essays by Aperture’s publisher, Lesley Martin, and Radius Books’ Darius Himes, as well as links to their full comments.  Alex found Darius’s perspective particularly refreshing in that it put the photographic book into the historical context of bookmaking through the centuries.––Rebecca Norris Webb

…I’m optimistic, overall, that people clearly love the physical photobook as an object. Hopefully they will continue to put money where their mouth is and buy them from publishers and small bookstores whenever possible. It’s also exciting that people are curious about pushing into new territory when it comes to bringing together images and text –– in both print and digital forms. There’s a shared sense that things are in transition and we need to find new ways of doing things.–– Lesley Martin

Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb photos, book dummy

Alex Webb, RNW's photos, VI book dummy

…Here are some ideas for “experimentation” with print-on-demand: have the book block created using print-on-demand technology and then take that block and have it bound in a cloth of your choosing at a local bindery; produce a hard cover print-on-demand book and produce a letterpress dustjacket on paper of your choice; design the book for a different trim size, print it in the larger size from Blurb and then have it professionally trimmed to your designed size—you’ll be sidestepping the limits on possible trim sizes; print two slim volumes—one print-on-demand and one using some other method—and have a slipcase or box produced to house the set; use the paper or trim sizes intended for non-photo print-on-demand books and make a photography book. These are just a few general ideas, but I genuinely hope to see more creative innovation with the book form in this next set of contest submissions for 2010 (the contest will launch sometime in the early Spring of 2010, so stay tuned).

With all of the interest in photography books and the history of photography as seen through publishing, there can only be more and more innovation ahead, which is truly exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of these discussions over the months ahead…––Darius Himes

TWO LINKS: LARRY SULTAN, A FAREWELL

Larry Sultan, from "Pictures from Home," Janet Borden Gallery

I was sad to see that the photographer Larry Sultan died shortly before Christmas.  Larry was a source of inspiration to a generation of photographers in the Bay area, where he taught for many years.  He produced a fascinating book in the 1970’s called Evidence, which gathered a set of remarkable photographs –– largely from the archives of large corporations –– and showed them in an utterly different context, confounding our expectations of what a photograph is and what it does.  Subsequently, he did a very personal –– but also unsettling –– book on his family, Pictures from Home, as well as a book on the San Fernando Valley, The Valley, in which he photographed in homes rented for the production of pornographic movies.

What I find most intriguing about Larry’s work is that it often questions traditional notions of photography, making us revaluate our understanding of the medium. Below is a link to his New York Times obit, as well as a link to a selection of his photographers from the Janet Borden Gallery in New York, who represents his work.––Alex Webb

Larry Sultan, from "Pictures from Home," Janet Borden Gallery

FOTOFORUM: THE INDELIBLE IMAGE

December 7, 2009

We asked photographers this month to select an indelible image –– one photograph they encountered early on as a photographer that still lingers with them today.  We’re especially pleased to include an indelible image from Darius Himes, one of the country’s foremost experts on the photo book, who is also a photographer, writer, and publisher.  And thanks to everyone who submitted an indelible image. Because we had so many responses to the column, we’ll run THE INDELIBLE IMAGE II next month. –– Alex and Rebecca

DARIUS HIMES ON HARRY CALLAHAN

Harry Callahan, Aix-en-Provence, 1958

One of the first photographers I was introduced to, as a young teenage boy, was Harry Callahan. The introduction came by way of the cover of Henry Horenstein’s Black and White Photography. My father had purchased the book at the suggestion of a colleague, and while the technical language was still far above me, I was deeply impressed by the work chosen. Callahan’s graceful black-and-white image of barren trees in winter not only spoke to me due to the subject matter—I grew up just across the Mississippi River in Iowa, a mere 3 hours from Chicago, where I presume Callahan made this photograph—but also because of the graphic power of the world rendered in shades of black, white, and gray.

But the photograph of Callahan’s that I most responded to, then and now, is his photograph of 1958, Aix-en-Provence, France. Actually, that statement is a bit of a falsehood. There are so many photographs of Callahan’s that I respond to, that to narrow it to one particular image is like asking for a favorite passage from Shakespeare! There are so many that are appropriate for so many situations. But nonetheless, what moves me about this image is the wildness of the underbrush and the seeming impenetrability of the scene. And yet, the more you look, the more things are revealed, by which I mean, the more deeply it impresses itself upon you, untethering your own inner eye along the way. Merely informational facts are not what I’m talking about; what I’m hinting at are the multitude of ways that the outer world has been transformed into a powerful two dimensional, abstracted image. I’m talking about the very transformative power of photography in the hands of an acutely sensitive artist.

There is a concept that is a clarifying one for me that relates to my attraction to this photograph. In both Eastern and Western cosmology is the notion of the mirror-connectedness of the Book of Revelation and the Book of Creation. Here is one exemplary, brief passage that speaks to this subject, from Persian-born Baha’u’llah. “Look at the world and ponder a while upon it. It unveileth the book of its own self before thine eyes and revealeth that which the Pen of thy Lord, the Fashioner, the All-Informed, hath inscribed therein”* John Ruskin, the 19th century British writer and social commentator expressed it this way.

There is religion in everything around us,

a calm and holy religion

in the unbreathing things of nature.

It is a meek and blessed influence,

stealing in as it were unaware upon the heart;

It comes quickly, and without excitement;

It has no terror, no gloom,

It does not rouse up the passions;

It is untrammeled by creeds….

There are a great many photographers and artists who have approached the world around them with awe and wonder. In this image, I see a precursor to photographers like Hiroshi Sugimoto and Thomas Joshua Cooper, as well as echoes of artists as varied as Nio Hokusai, Kandinsky, and the darker aspects of Whistler’s painting oeuvre. What Callahan seems to have mastered, to me at least, was the ability to gaze, with deep intent, at his “immediate” surroundings, without feeling the need to either exoticize nor degrade what he looked at and what he ultimately decided to photograph, allowing “the book of its own self” to reveal itself in all of its own inherent beauty. This is a powerful role that the arts can play in our society and in helping us advance our fledgling, world-embracing civilization.––Darius Himes

* (Baha’u’llah: Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 141-142)

Darius’s websites:

http://www.dariushimes.com

http://www.radiusbooks.org

For more about Harry Callahan:

http://www.stephendaitergallery.com/dynamic/artist.asp?ArtistID=25

To see Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work:

http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/

To see some of Thomas Joshua Cooper’s work:

http://artnews.org/artist.php?i=735



ALEX WEBB ON HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Valencia, Spain, 1933

My father, when he was struggling with writer’s block––which, unfortunately, was all too often––turned to photography, and as a result had a fine collection of photographic books.  At about the age of fourteen, I started to sift through these books in his study.  As I pored through The Decisive Moment, I remember coming upon this Cartier-Bresson image from Valencia, Spain.  I’d never seen anything quite like it.     As I marveled at the echoing rings of the mismatched spectacle lenses and the half-target on the door, set against––in deep space––that slightly twisted, ambiguous figure in the doors behind, I remember thinking: How can someone see this way?  How can someone find such an enigmatic moment in the world and bring it back as a photograph? I began to sense something about perception, about the moment, about space, and about the unique possibilities of the photograph. I’ve never forgotten this image.––Alex Webb

To see more of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work:

http://www.magnumphotos.com

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB ON WRIGHT MORRIS

Wright Morris, Clothing on Hooks, 1947

Formerly a writer, I was attracted early on as a photographer to two books that combine text and images:  Walker Evans and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Wright Morris’s God’s Country and My People. Both bodies of work expanded my way of looking at the photo book, and eventually led to my intermingling the two in my own work.  Yet, there was something about the lesser-known, Nebraskan-born Morris’s photo-text book –– in which he interweaves his writing and his photographs –– that touched something deeper and more inexplicable in me. Morris’s work is aloof yet engaging, bare-bones yet mysterious, spacious yet intimate –– it is work that suggests the many paradoxes that make up the Great Plains itself, where, like Morris, I also grew up,

I’m not sure exactly how his work manages to evoke all of this in me.  Perhaps it’s because Wright Morris’s objects are often photographed so sparely, yet with such intensity, it creates a kind of space around them.   And this space creates a kind of suggestiveness, ripe for poetic reverie in the viewer, not unlike the experience of driving across the Nebraska or South Dakota prairie with few if any trees or houses to fetter the mind, the memory, the imagination.  So, for me, Morris’s spare objects suggest the Great Plains –- like this photograph of the tattered coats and hat –– as well as evoking a different kind of landscape, a kind of private and interior Nebraska, one that suggests what all that emptiness feels like to an insider, someone who grew up on the Great Plains, and the Great Plains “…grew up in you,” to quote Morris.

And, lastly, there are his accompanying texts that somehow speak to –- or perhaps I should say, speak for –– the photos, texts that are as spare and distilled and intense as the photographs themselves.  I find the text pieces as plainspoken and mesmerizing and mysterious as a Weldon Kees poem, a poet who also grew up in Nebraska.  Reading Morris creates a kind of expansiveness in me, a kind of ache and a kind of delight, which is often my response to the Great Plains.  And, I’m not sure why, but as soon as I finish reading one of his more luminous pieces  (like the one I’ve included below), I find myself starting the process all over again –– a sign, they say, of truly poetic writing.––Rebecca Norris Webb

The man who lives his own life, and wears it out, can dispense with the need of taking it with him. He dies his own death or he goes on living, and where the life has worn in the death will come out. Skin and bones, jacket and shoes, tools, sheds and machines wear out; even the land wears out and the seat wears off the cane- bottom chair. The palms wear off the gloves, the cuffs off the sleeves, the nickel off the doorknobs, the plate off the silver, the flowers off the plates, the shine off the stovepipe, the label off the flour sacks, the enamel off the dipper, the varnish off the checkers, and the gold off the Christmas jewelry, but every day the nap wears off the carpet the figure wears in. A pattern for living, the blueprint of it, can be seen in the white stitches of the denim, the timepiece stamped like a medallion in the bib of the overalls. Between wearing something in and wearing it out the line is as vague as the receding horizon, and as hard to account for as the missing hairs of a brush. The figure that began on the front of the carpet has moved around to the back.––Wright Morris

For more about Wright Morris:

http://monet.unk.edu/mona/first/morris/morris.html

For more about Weldon Kees (including my favorite poem of his “1926”):

http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/Ncw/kees.htm

TWO QUESTIONS: On Writing and Crowded Frames

November 30, 2009

For November, we decided to include TWO QUESTIONS from two West Coast photographers, Stella Kalaw and Minh Carrico (find out more about them below).  In this same vein, please feel free to leave TWO COMMENTS –– one about one of Rebecca’s responses, one about one of Alex’s –– after this posting. ––AW and RNW

ON WRITING AND VISUAL COMPLEXITY

Rebecca Norris Webb, Near Gray Goose, S.D., 2006

STELLA KALAW: Rebecca, I saw a few images from My Dakota on your website, and there is something quite poetic and lyrical in the way that you express yourself in this body of work. Does your background as a writer affect the way you photograph?

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB:  With My Dakota –– which started out as an exploration of my relationship with the American West and ended up also becoming an elegy for my brother, Dave, who died unexpectedly –– my writing abandoned me for two years after he died. I’m not entirely sure, but perhaps the hole left by my not being able to write somehow intensified my need to photograph during this time, because it was the only way I had left to express myself.

Now, some three years after my brother’s death, my writing has returned, but it’s as spare as a treeless prairie.  Maybe My Dakota will ultimately include little or no writing of my own.  Maybe that’s okay.  Maybe that merely reflects the particular nature of my grief.  I won’t know until I start to put together the book dummy, which I plan to do this winter.  For me, the return of my writing is more a sign that I’ve somehow arrived at the far side of my grief, and, from that vantage point, finally have enough distance to absorb and distill and edit and ultimately let go of the work.

S.K.: Alex, there is this visual complexity that is so inherent to your images. How did this evolve?

ALEX WEBB: I think that I have always been drawn to visually complex photographs.  Many of my early photographs contain more than one element, have more than one point of focus.  As the years have passed, my photographs have become increasingly complex.   Now, at times I feel that I often walk a fragile line visually:  pushing the frame to include more and more, just up to ––  but falling short of ––  chaos.

I suspect that the roots of this affinity for visual complexity –– and my increasing embrace of greater and greater complexity within the frame ––  echoes my belief in the unimaginable complexity and surprise in the world, and street photography’s unique ability to capture this.   For me, walking the streets with a camera is about discovery, about discovering situations that are more surprising and more startling and more complex than any moment I could have ever imagined.   I’m intrigued how multiple states, multiple situations, and multiple moments, can co-exist and qualify one another.  I’m drawn to photographs that don’t just show the existence of one thing, but the simultaneous existence of many things, sometimes in ways that may seem paradoxical or contradictory.  In this sense, I feel that my photographs, more than anything else, raise questions:  How can that, and that, and that, all simultaneously co-exist?  What is the nature of this big, complex, unruly world out there that so defies our efforts to categorize it?  Photography can bring something back from that world that affirms a reality and, simultaneously –– and perhaps more importantly –– that expands on our understanding of that reality.

ON EXHIBITION PRINTS AND MAKING BOOKS

Alex Webb, Havana, 2004

Minh Carrico:  Alex, after a book is published, what criteria do you use for editing the images used for the book down to a smaller number of prints for exhibition in a museum or gallery?

AW: A book is a bit like a piece of music.  It needs high points and low points, stronger notes and quieter notes.    And like a piece of music, if a book of photographs were made only of high notes, there would be no relief from the intensity, no variation in rhythm, no real movement to carry the viewer through the sequence of the book.

Viewing a photograph on a wall, on the other hand, is a quite different experience than looking at the image in a book.  On a wall, the photograph becomes an object and demands to be experienced within its own parameters.  While the viewer’s experience of the photograph on the wall may be somewhat qualified by other photographs on the wall nearby, the viewer of a photograph in a book is often much more influenced by the immediate and lingering presence of the photographs near it in the book –– especially if there are photographs on the opposite page in the book.

So, when I choose photographs for an exhibition out of one of my books, I am looking for those images that demand to be seen on their own ––  that somehow validate a viewer spending time with these images in a gallery or museum and absorbing what it is they have to offer.  Of course, I want the exhibition to have coherence –– hopefully that echoes at least some of the musicality of the book ––  but I’m particularly concerned about whether each individual print that’s hung in the show creates its own rich and complex world.

MC: Rebecca, when editing and laying out your images for a book, how often and at what point do you consult with other people (photo editors, photographers, designer, etc) for advice in the selection and layout process?

RNW: Good question, but somewhat difficult to answer since every book is different.  I guess, generally, I’d say there are roughly three stages involved in creating a book.  The first is more private and involves listening intently and intuitively to the body of the work until the rough shape and rhythm of the book is revealed to you, enabling you to make a book dummy that reflects the unique world of that particular book.  The second is more collaborative –– showing the work to a few creative people you trust, which may be painters and poets as well as photographers and editors.  This process may help you illuminate and fine–tune your book dummy, until the sequence and rhythm feels right visually and conceptually and intuitively. With this version of the book dummy in hand, the third stage involves collaborating with a designer.  If you’re fortunate to work with the right book designer, your collaboration can result in a book design that strengthens and complements the work –– often in ways you never could have imagined at the beginning of the process.

Stella Kalaw, from the series "Cubao"

Stella Kalaw was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. She earned a BA in Communication Arts at Dela Salle University, Manila and a BA in Professional Photography at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA. Her work has been exhibited at the Singapore International Photography Festival, The Ayala Museum and at the Silverlens Gallery in Manila, Wall Space Gallery in Seattle, Kala Art Gallery in Berkeley and at the Rayko Gallery in San Francisco.  She was one of the first prize recipients for the People, Places & Things: an International competition celebrating En Foco’s 35th Anniversary and received an honorable mention at the 5th International Polaroid Awards. Stella is based in the San Francisco Area.

Stella’s website: http://www.kalaw.com

Stella’s blog: http://stellakalaw.blogspot.com

Stella’s work will be featured in the three-person show, Geography, at Rayko Gallery in San Francisco from Dec. 17th – Jan. 18th, 2010: http://raykophoto.com/?page_id=38

Minh Carrico, "Answering the Call," 2008, from the series, Circles of Identity

Minh Carrico brings his passion for visual communications and real world experiences to the classroom after 16 years of working as a designer, photographer, and producer in the advertising and magazine industries. Minh teaches design and photography at Edmonds Community College just outside of Seattle, WA, where he also serves as Faculty Co-chair of the Visual Arts Program. Outside of the classroom, Minh works on a number of fine art photography projects and art installations that address identity.

Minh began his career in 1991 as an editorial photographer while attending St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He opened a commercial photography studio in 1993 and started making photographs for advertising and design projects. After six years, he moved to New York City and began a career in print graphic design. His design and photography clients includes 3M, Atlantic Records, Benjamin Moore Paints, Chris Buck, Detour Magazine, Michel Gondry, Annie Leibovitz, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, MTV, Time Out New York Magazine, and Whole Food Market, Inc.

Minh’s website: http://www.minhcarrico.com/

VIOLET ISLE

November 8, 2009

Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate the book launch and exhibition opening of Violet Isle. Some of you who couldn’t attend the opening in New York requested to see some of the installation photographs.   We are also including our first glimpse of the limited edition version of the book, which made its debut at Ricco Maresca Gallery last week.  The design of this limited edition prototype was inspired by the handmade book workshop in Matanzas, Cuba, which often incorporates cardboard, string, and other everyday materials in their book designs.

For those of you who missed the opening and gallery talk,  the Violet Isle exhibition at Ricco Maresca runs through Saturday, January 2, 2010.-–Alex and Rebecca

0.RM

Photo courtesy of Ricco Maresca Gallery.

2.RM

Photo courtesy of Ricco Maresca Gallery.

3.1.RM

4.RM

5.RM

Below are photographs of a prototype of the limited version of Violet Isle, which comes in an edition of 40 with two 11×14 prints.

6.VI.LE

7.VILE

VIOLET ISLE: On Collaboration

October 28, 2009
Alex Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2008

Alex Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2008

For the book and exhibition of Violet Isle, we chose to collaborate in order to create a more complicated and multi-layered portrait of Cuba, one that explores not just the streets of this Caribbean island, but also the relationship between Cubans and the natural world.  Interweaving our work, we discovered, expanded upon our understanding of Cuba, upon the notion of an island in a kind of bubble — a political, economic, social, and ecological bubble –– the latter, which scientists now say, may protect Cuba environmentally because of the dearth of cars and plastics and other consumer goods.  This collaboration also allowed us to embrace visually and conceptually the enigma of Cuba, what Pico Iyer calls, the “ambiguous island.”

Ultimately, we feel our Cuba photographs interwoven in the book or exhibited together –– with their echoes and tensions and cracks and contradictions –– create a more dynamic and complex portrait of the violet isle, a place prone to both political and romantic cliches, than either of our bodies of work shown separately.  That’s what we found so fascinating and mysterious and humbling about collaborating on this project.

“Cracks are a given between one collaborator and another,” the poet CD Wright once wrote about her collaboration with the photographer Deborah Luster, “that’s how the light gets in.”––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2008

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, Cuba, 2008

Leading up to the book launch/opening of Violet Isle, we will be posting on a more regular basis between now and Thursday, Nov. 5th. We welcome your thoughtful questions and insightful comments, especially those about Cuba, Violet Isle, collaboration, and the process of making books.––AW and RNW


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