Archive for October, 2009


October 30, 2009

JUSTIN PARTYKA: As you know, I am close to finishing a long-term book project. I was wondering how many “book dummies” you went through with Violet Isle, and what their physical format was?


Alex Webb, RNW's cover, VI book dummy

Alex Webb, Violet Isle book dummy

Alex Webb, Alex's photo, VI book dummy

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB:  Well, since a picture is worth a thousands words, we decided to post some photos of this handmade book dummy, which was made out of color xeroxes and tape.  We made four versions of this book dummy.

For people shopping their first book around, Alex and I would recommend something a bit more professional looking, such as one of the Blurb books. We were fortunate that the publishers we showed the book to were charmed by it, perhaps because its obvious homemade quality  is somewhat reminiscent of Cuba and its tradition of handmade books.

Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb photos, book dummy


Alex Webb, RNW's photos, VI book dummy



Alex Webb, Alex Webb's photo, VI book dummy


Alex Webb, AW's back cover, VI book dummy

DAVID BACHER: It’s interesting to hear your comment about the relationship of Cubans and the natural world, and perhaps on a larger scale, human beings and the natural world. I like this idea, both generally speaking, and as a way of tying your work together in one book. You mention the  “dearth of cars and plastics.”  One of the first images that comes to my mind regarding Cuba is the old American car that still manages to crawl around this island, that in some ways remains stuck in the past. I always imagined that there are many such old cars that continue to pollute. Or is the actual quantity of these cars very low compared to the landmass?


Rebecca Norris Webb, Caibarien, Cuba, 2008

ALEX WEBB: Yes, you guessed right, David.  Compared to other Latin American cities, Havana has considerable fewer cars.  And when traveling outside of Havana, horse-and-buggies and bike taxis often share the road with cars, the former two often dominating in the smaller towns.

When Rebecca discovered these unique collections of animals all around the Cuba –– especially birds –– she was struck by how she’d never witnessed anything quite like this in the 25 cities around the world she visited while working on her first book.  The “Violet Isle” is indeed the largest island in the Caribbean, some 700 miles across, and has some endemic species, including the world’s smallest bat and the world’s smallest hummingbird. Cuba has several national parks, and some 10% of the entire island is protected from all building and development.

EWA ZEBROWSKI: Would you choose to collaborate again?

Portrait by Cuban photographer

ALEX WEBB:  Yes, we think we’ll collaborate again, though are first priority remains our individual projects.  We do have an idea for another collaboration, which we may begin fairly soon.

Justin Partyka’s website:

David Bacher’s website:

Ewa Zebrowski’s website:

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

TWO QUESTIONS: On Returning and On Street Photography; On Magic Realism and On Paradox

October 24, 2009

For October, we decided to include TWO QUESTIONS from two photographers, Magdalena Sole and John Masters (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

MAGDALENA SOLE:  Rebecca, you talk about returning to a place like Cuba some eleven times. How do you keep that initial fresh eye –– that untainted first impression that helps one see the image? What changes when you return again and again to the same place?

RNW, Remedios, Cuba, 2008

RNW, Remedios, Cuba, 2008

RNW:  Good question, Magdalena.  You know, I’ve never really thought about it, but I think, for me at least, I tend to discover fresher and more unique images in a place the more trips I make.  It’s somewhat akin to love.  You can fall in love at first sight, but it takes considerably longer to understand the nuances, the strengths and weaknesses, and the uniqueness of that person you’re in love with.

So for me, I don’t tend to have the experience you mention my first trip to a place – the fresh and untainted impression you mention.  I find it’s only after at least two or three or perhaps more trips to a place that my vision tends to deepen and I begin to see the place in a more unique and complicated way, perhaps echoing my experience of getting better acquainted with a place.

MAGDALENA SOLE: Alex, you once told me that you walk for miles every day to find your pictures, but then you also remain put in one place for hours. When you stay in one place, do you start talking to the people and connecting with them, or do you remain on the periphery? Later, do you go back to people and places you know?

AW:  Every situation is different.  In some situations it works for me to just walk through the situation, photographing and rarely talking to anyone.  But in other situations, especially when I end up hanging out for extensive periods of time, I certainly will talk — as well as of course watch and wait.  If I sense the possibility of a picture, but it doesn’t happen that day, I may return another day — or even, occasionally, another week, another month, or another year.  I try to work with whatever the world gives me.

JOHN MASTERS: Alex, does the philosophy of magical realism allow you to see something through the viewfinder or in an image that perhaps others do not see or feel?

AW, Paratins, Brazil, 1993

AW, Parintins, Brazil, 1993

AW: When photographing in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon I sometimes felt as if I was stepping into the background of a magic realist novel.  In the Amazon, the fantastic often seems to encroach on the mundane:  at festivals people build immense floats depicting Amazonian creatures, children dress as huge fish for Earth Day, and monkeys and coatimundis are kept as household pets.  Would I have responded differently to such phenomenon if I had not read Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa?    I would guess the answer is both yes and no.  My fascination with such phenomenon may well be more attuned, more intense, because of my readings.  On the other hand, irrespective of any knowledge of magic realism, it’s pretty hard not to be taken in by the spectacle of fifteen-foot-high paper mache and plastic anacondas, tarantulas, and mermaids  at the Boi-Bumba Festival in Parintins.

JOHN MASTERS:  Rebecca, do you try to convey any specific emotion that you may have towards one of your images to the observer or would you rather they interpret the image in their own way?

RNW:  Like poetry, what I love about photography is its suggestiveness, how an image –– whether in poetry or photography –– will resonate in different ways for different people.

That said, I am especially intrigued with people’s complicated response to the natural world –– emotionally, politically, philosophically.  The challenge is how to visually convey the philosophical paradoxes and emotional tensions that define our experience of this complicated eco-political terrain.  Each project I’ve worked on is a variation on this theme.  For instance, in my current work-in-progress, My Dakota, my most personal project to date, I only recently realized that this project is about “looking for a contradiction to inhabit,” as the poet, Rilke, once wrote.  For me, that contradiction is trying to photograph South Dakota’s “geography of hope” (as Wallace Stegner once famously called the West) and “geography of loss,” my brother’s death and his eternity.  For me, the contradiction I’m trying to inhabit is My Dakota.

Magdalena Sole, Venice, 2008

Magdalena Sole, Venice, 2008

Magdalena Solé was born in Reus. When she was seven her family departed Franco’s Spain in the middle of the night. The why is an unrevealed family secret. Life in 1960’s Switzerland for émigré Spanish was like life in 1950s New York City for Puerto Ricans—fitting in was a full time job. By 20 she was long fluent in Swiss German, could pass as a native and graduated as one of only two Spaniards from a University with a degree in teaching.  As a teacher the pay was good and the future was bright, but the world beckoned. In the mid –1980s Magdalena arrived in New York City, illiterate in English and living in a walk-up on the lower East Side. She became married, had a son and found herself poor. Then life veered.

In 1989, when global branding was a little-known field, Magdalena founded and ran a graphic design business, TransImage, that specialized in translating visual and verbal images for different counties. By this time she spoke seven languages fluently and had lived in four different countries, so she understood how confusing cultural idiosyncrasies could be. The business, located in Tribeca with offices in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, thrived for twelve years until she sold it and attended Columbia Film school. She graduated with a Masters of Fine Art in 2002. Magdalena loved making film and wrote, directed and produced her own, A Zen Tale, which had a New York theatrical run. It was such a thrill to see her film’s name on a Manhattan marquee. Her last film, Man On Wire, on which she was the Unit Production Manager, won an Oscar in 2009. Despite her accomplishments, film was just too much business, with too many people, too big a budget and too little art. But she loved that camera and the images she could create. She still wanted to explore the world of image and story.

Photography was the perfect medium. No gaffers, gofers, best boys, script girls or craft services. Just her, the light and a subject. The Leica rangefinder became her partner in this exploration. For the past two years Magdalena has worked exclusively in photography. Her current project, Forgotten Places, is her road to the interior of the cities she loves. These urban environments exist at the edges, in immigrant and working class communities where beauty is found in displaced spirits and peeling paint.

Magdalena’s website:

John Masters, Roma family

John Masters, Roma family

John Masters was born in Europe to American parents in the mid-1960s.  For the first year of his life, he smelled the heat of Italy and southern France–limestone, lavender and rosemary bushes mixed with salt and diesel.   He answered to ‘Giovanni’ for several years.  His first camera was a Kodak Instamatic in 1972. Then there were a series of Polaroid devices, until 1990, when he purchased his first film SLR, the sturdy workhorse Canon AE-1. He used this one camera for almost ten years. It once fell a short distance off a balcony in Florence, bouncing off the marble stairs below, yet survived.  Four years later, after suffering from progressive shutter-ping, its internal workings ceased.  This was Bulgaria 1999, and Masters’ life had changed dramatically.

Through a series of fortuitous events, he found a pattern in the world-fabric worth following.  He fell in love again with travel, and those magical places we find ourselves when we go.  In mirrors and windows he discovered secret doorways leading to abstract realms; in bus stations he waited while time shifted around him. He found himself speaking foreign tongues, listening to wild sounds, and relishing the zest of unexplored philosophical cuisine, especially Macedonian charcuterie.  He developed a love of intellectual investigation which also fuels his eye.   Like Jean Cocteau, he believes that “The camera is but the third eye of the person using it.”  With his camera and notebook in hand, he is a visual cartographer; stopping to smell the roses, chat with a shop-keeper, have tea with a friend, and watch the river flow.

John Masters lives in upstate New York on an old farm. He uses several different cameras. He still uses a Canon AE-1.
John’s website:

CONGRATULATIONS: David, Anton, and Burn

October 23, 2009

Congratulations to David Alan Harvey, Anton Kusters, and Burn Magazine for winning the Lucie Award this week, the first time an online magazine has won the award.

Here’s the interiew David conducted with us last week about Violet Isle and our collaboration, in case you missed it:

TWO LOOKS: Charles Harbutt and Joan Liftin

October 19, 2009

Rebecca and I deeply respect both Charles Harbutt and Joan Liftin as photographers, as teachers, and as editors/book makers.  When we first started exploring the notion of putting together our joint Cuba book, we sought out Charles’ and Joan’s opinions, and one of Joan’s suggestions about the sequence of the opening spreads significantly improved the book.  Their advice tends to illuminate and to cut straight to the heart of the matter, often tinged with a delightful sense of humor.  Our work –– and our lives –– have been enriched by knowing them.––Alex Webb


Charles Harbutt, 1975

Charles Harbutt, 1975

I love this picture of Charlie’s because it’s light as air, as ephemeral as the moment that produced it, a curl of smoke and rays of light in a shuttered hotel bedroom in Arles, 1975.

The photo is introspective and inviting, even dreamy, containing the strong hint that it is the result of just one too many tokes.  We can’t read the picture on the wall but it provides balance and mystery.

But who ARE those people in the smoke?––Joan Liftin


Joan Liftin

Joan Liftin

When I first saw this picture, I felt immense loneliness. I think it let me feel what Joan was feeling in that desolate British Railways compartment rattling down to London to go to her father’s funeral. The wild trees outside. The bird at first seems poignant, fleeing. Then I realize the picture is about the bird. Not fleeing so much as flying free outside the sadness. The picture is a Zen metaphor if Zen has metaphors. You can’t feel what someone is feeling when they giggle at a joke, or say “I love you.” But with her picture you can see (and feel) what she saw and felt. Anyway all that is what I like about this picture of Joan’s.––Charles Harbutt

Joan Liftin, often mistaken for Marilyn Monroe, is the author of ‘Drive Ins”.  She was Director of  Magnum’s Photo Library and Chair of ICP’s Documentary Education Program.  She has edited a number of photo books.

Charles Harbutt has published two books and one monograph of his work: Progreso: Navarin Editeur, Paris, 1986 (English edition: Actuality Inc., NYC, 1987); Charles Harbutt: I Grandi Fotografi: Editoriale Fabbri, Milan, Italy: 1983; Travelog: MIT Press, Cambridge, 1974. For the first 20 years of his photographic life, Charles Harbutt was a photojournalist, working mostly through Magnum Photos (of which he was twice president). In the past year, he exhibited at the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Vienna Museum and Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. He is currently an associate professor at Parsons, the New School for Design where he has never been mistaken for Joe DiMaggio.

For more about them and their work go to:

In the comments section this week, Alex and I are asking for suggestions for our next FotoForum (our first one was “On Fear and Photography, Oct. 5, 2009).  Thanks in advance for your suggestions.––Rebecca Norris Webb

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:

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:

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:

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”

POSTINGS: October 2009

October 12, 2009

This month we’re featuring two unpublished photos (one of Alex’s, one of Rebecca’s), two links (about Robert Frank and his NYC exhibition), two news items (including a review and a photography grant deadline), two views (a poet and a photographer respond to a shared struggle),  two farewells, and, lastly, two arts (a song inspired by a photograph). ––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

TWO PHOTOS: Unpublished

Alex Webb, Marrekech, October, 2009

Alex Webb, Marrekech, October, 2009

Rebecca Norris Webb, Wind Cave, August 2009

Rebecca Norris Webb, Wind Cave, August 2009

TWO LINKS: On Robert Frank

One of the first books of street photography that inspired me as a young photographer was Robert Frank’s The Americans.  It’s great to see that the Metropolitan Museum in New York is now exhibiting prints of the entirety of this remarkable book.––Alex Webb

The interview: Robert Frank and Met curator Jeff Rosenheim:

The exhibition: “Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans”:

TWO NEWS ITEMS: A photography grant deadline and a review:

Grant deadline/new book: From Sara Terry, photographer, and founder and director of the Aftermath Project: We’ve just come out with our second publication, “War is Only Half the Story, Vol Two,” featuring the stunning work of our 2008 grant winner Kathryn Cook (“Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide”) and finalists Natala Grigalashvili, Tinka Dietz, Christine Fenzl and Pep Bonet. In addition, we are now accepting applications for our fourth year of granting (2010); we’ll be giving out two grants, for $20,000 each. The application deadline is Nov 2nd — you can download the application on our website. “Vol Two” can be purchased online, for $20 plus $4 shipping/handling in the US or $15 airmail shipping/handling to any overseas address.  All proceeds will go to help support our activities; we operate on a shoestring, so purchases are a great way to help keep the Aftermath Project going — and to get a great book at the same time:

Rebecca Norris Webb, Warsaw, 2005

Rebecca Norris Webb, Warsaw, 2005

Review: And below, here’s a link to a wonderful review of a Blue Earth Alliance exhibition at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Napa that features some of Rebecca’s work.  The article includes the story behind Rebecca’s photograph above, the last image she took for her book, The Glass Between Us.––Alex Webb

TWO VIEWS: A Poet’s and a Photographer’s Response to a Shared Struggle

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Alex and I wanted to feature two women we know and admire, two women who have not only battled breast cancer, but courageously and honestly and insightfully shared their experiences with all of us (through one woman’s photography and another’s poetry), enriching our lives and our awareness about breast cancer.  The two women are the photographer, Alexandra Avakian, and the poet, Carolyn Forche.––Rebecca Norris Webb

NYT Lens: Alexandra Avakian : A Camera as Therapy (NYT: October 2009)

And here is Carolyn Forche’s reading her poem, “What Comes” last spring:–rsmy9k

Alex Webb, U.S.-Mexico border, 1975

Alex Webb, U.S.-Mexico border, 1975

TWO FAREWELLS: Marty Forscher and Irving Penn

In 1975, after photographing on the U.S.-Mexico border, I returned to New York with one of my Leica M-2’s filled with grit.  I asked around about what I should do and the answer was unanimous: Visit Marty Forscher’s Professional Camera Repair on W. 47th Street.  So I dropped off my Leica at Marty’s, and a week later I returned to be met with much laughter and a question:  “Where were you?  We found a bug living in your camera!”

That was the first of many visits to the legendary camera repair shop of Marty Forscher.  When I read his obit in The New York Times (, I felt a little saddened –– probably like photographers all over New York City –– to lose such a supporter, not only of cameras, but of photographers and photography as well. Yet, I couldn’t help but smile when I thought of my first trip to Marty’s nearly 35 years ago.––Alex Webb

Irving Penn, Fashion Photographer, Is Dead at 92 (NYT: October 6, 2009)

TWO ARTS: Music and Photography

Alex and I often talk about how sequencing photographs to create a book is a lot like composing music: a big book is a symphony; a little book, a sonata. So we thought you might be interested in taking a look at this process turned upside down: Here’s a video about how a photograph inspired the creation of a song.––Rebecca Norris Webb

FOTOFORUM: On Fear and Photography

October 5, 2009

We’d like to extend the notion of an online photographic community with another new column we’re calling “FotoForum.” For the first column, the topic is “On Fear and Photography,” and we’re featuring four photographers and their responses to our question below. We hope to add the column monthly, depending on the kind of response we get from all of you.  And if you’d like to, please feel free to leave your response to this month’s question in the comment section at the end of this posting, along with a link to your website.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

What’s frightened or disturbed or unsettled you in the past photographically, and how did you manage to resolve this so that it ended up changing your work in some way, perhaps even enriching it? For instance, this could be something about photographing in a culture very different from your own, or perhaps something a little closer to home, such as confronting a more personal fear or demon.


John Trotter. My clothes from the attack, July 1999.

John Trotter. My clothes from the attack, July 1999.


Three months after I’d been nearly beaten to death by a half dozen young men, a detective showed me some of the photographic evidence of my attack.  In one of the photographs, I was lying shirtless on a hospital gurney, an oxygen mask strapped to my face, with blood oozing out of wounds all over my head. Though I remembered an old green Chevy Impala stopping and an angry man exploding towards me on the sidewalk (I was photographing for the Sacramento Bee newspaper at the time), after that first blow to my face, almost everything else was lost to me.

My attack had resulted in a severe head injury, and a cognitive fog had settled heavily over my world for three months. At Sierra Gates, a brain injury rehabilitation residence, slowly I had to learn how to walk again and, most frustrating, how to remember and make sense of my experiences.  Amazingly though, because of the blank space in my memory, the extreme violence of my assault was an abstraction to me until I saw the detective’s photographs of my assault.

And that’s when the fear began to settle in. The angry man I’d remembered, a gang member, was being held for a murder he’d allegedly committed later that same week, but my other five or so assailants were walking free because the many witnesses to my attack were too terrified to talk to the police. Having been beaten severely for being a photographer, I was deeply afraid to photograph in public again.

Six months after my release from Sierra Gates, however, I decided to return there to photograph other people with brain injuries. Looking back, I think it was partly because I felt safe there, the first place I’d remembered with any clarity my new, brain injured life. It was like learning to be a photographer all over again.––John Trotter 

Annette Nordstrom, Marrakesh, 2009.

Annette Nordstrom, Marrakesh, 2009.


This past week was the first time I’d ever photographed in Morocco.  I spent my first day trying to decide how to approach this culture, which is very different than my native Scandanavia (I was born in Finland, and now live in Norway). I decided to try something different from anything I’d ever done before in my work as a professional photographer.  The thought came to me:  Who exactly is the woman beneath the hijab?  And isn’t she, ultimately, not that different than me?  So I decided to wear a traditional costume, and to take self portraits in the streets of Marrakesh, often using a cable release.  I thought I was going to feel somehow diminished as a woman and a person. What surprised me the most is that I was treated with such respect that I felt beautiful, both inside and out. –Annette Nordstrom

Annette is in the process of building a website.



Miah Nate Johnson

Miah Nate Johnson



Miah Nate Johnson. From my notebooks.

Miah Nate Johnson. From my notebooks.




One of the hardest things is to set out on a new path, new thoughts, new vision.  During a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown with the Webbs last summer, I laid down a photographic essay very reluctantly.  It was about depression, which is sometimes called the “black dog,” a malady very hard to reveal publicly, since this work is not only the expression of others’ sufferings, but my own as well. I was nervous.  I had softer stories in my box, but this one kept nagging at me.

After a week of editing, the “Black Dog” series –– a mix of my photographs and my drawings  –– the work seemed to speak more directly and more clearly.  At the final exhibition, I was surprised and very humbled by the response.  Some people cried.  Some people thanked me.  It made me realize I was not alone. I still search out this mysterious road with its many pains and turns.––Miah Nate Johnson

John Masters. Macedonian shepherd.

John Masters. Macedonian shepherd.


The work of others intimidates me until I remember that I am not supposed to be taking their photographs––only my own.––John Masters