Archive for November, 2009

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


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.


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:

Stella’s blog:

Stella’s work will be featured in the three-person show, Geography, at Rayko Gallery in San Francisco from Dec. 17th – Jan. 18th, 2010:

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:

TWO LOOKS: Trent and Narelle

November 23, 2009

Trent Parke, a Magnum photographer from Australia, is one of the first photographers that Rebecca and I showed our Violet Isle book dummy to a couple of summers ago in Paris.  There was good reason: He and his wife, Narelle Autio, the wonderful and painterly photographer, had already published a joint book of their photographs, The Seventh Wave (2000). So no surprise that Trent was the first to notice how our two bodies of work played off each other.

Unlike Rebecca and I, Trent and Narelle have photographed not only in the same location, but in the very same spot, sometimes even taking their photographs just minutes apart, as their TWO LOOKS column below explains.  To read more about these two Australian photographers –– and to see more of their lyrical images –– click on the links at the end of this posting.––Alex Webb


Trent Parke, Cottesloe Beach, 2004

Trent took this picture while we were travelling around Australia, living out of the back of our 4WD. We were in Fremantle, Western Australia. It was a 40°C day (104°F ) in the middle of a week-long heat wave and like most Australians –– and especially those living in a tent –– we headed for the beach. At the time I was literally immersed in my project Watercolours. I had spent three days photographing in the ocean, hanging around in deep sea. Strangely, during most of this time I had had to be forced into the water. Normally totally at home in the water, I couldn’t shake that ‘sharky’ feeling. After three days of Trent’s urging me back in the water and convincing me not to worry, I finally said that’s enough.

Not long after, a loud wail screamed over the beach. The siren sounds –– not unlike those signalling an air raid –– but on an Australian beach no one looks up at the sky. Within seconds the crowded water was empty, the beach now lined with people looking seaward, searching for the telltale shadow. And there was the shark –– all five metres of it –– swimming up and down the beach, oblivious of the commotion it had caused.

When I first saw this picture of Trent’s I was devastated –– in a friendly rival kind of way. I wanted it. It was such a fantastic unusual view of the beach. I had also attempted to capture the strange sight of hundreds of people looking out to an empty sea, and, although I was yet to see my transparencies, I knew I would have nothing as strong in colour. His black and white image conjures up those chilling, historical images of unknowing spectators watching atomic test explosions, their shielded faces lit by a mesmerising, blasting light.

This photograph, which went on to become an important part of his Minutes to Midnight series, is a classic example how Trent approaches his work. The image, while standing alone as a documentary photograph, has become something quite different. It now also represents a dark episode in our history and seen together with the rest of Minutes to Midnight it becomes an apocalyptic chapter out of this epic imaginary story about Australia.   He has used symbolism and a joint memory to take it to another level. It is something that Trent does with maddening regularity –– but it always amazes me.––Narelle Autio


Narelle Autio, "Splash" from the series, Watercolours.

This photograph of Narelle’s is one of my favourites from her Watercolours series. It has all the elements of herself and her photography in it: Her trademark use of colour and light, her optimistic outlook, and her painterly approach.

For three days we returned to this beach in Fremantle, Western Australia. Out past the breakers on Cottesloe beach is a floating buoy.  It is sizable enough to hold three or four people –– that is, if you have the arm strength to haul yourself up. I remember for two days Narelle continually swimming out to the buoy and photographing the swimmers throwing themselves off and plunging in. However, on the third day after swimming out, she turned around and came back to shore. I asked why. It was, after all, the reason we had continued to return to this same beach. She said she didn’t feel comfortable and had that “sharky” feeling. (I had swum out to the buoy myself the previous day and had also encountered that same sharky feeling. It was that sort of place.)

Regardless of the fact that a five-metre shark did manage to close the beach less than an hour later, I am very glad she did decide to come back to shore. Because otherwise she would never have taken this picture (above).  Yes, there was the other small fact that she could have been eaten by a  shark.  But what is more important when you take a frame like this?

I also remember being in our two-man tent at a caravan park further up the west coast, when her processed transparencies arrived back from the East Coast. I remember coming to this sleeve of negs and my eye immediately going to this frame. I think I said it to her then: “You won’t beat this frame on this trip –– and neither will I.”

Of all the amazing photographs she has taken at the beach and under the water, I still come back to this frame as the one that truly represents her work. If you look at both photographs we took on the same day, maybe only several minutes apart,  it gives a pretty good indication of our personalities and the way we look at the world.  And it shows how two photographers can be at the same place at the same time, but the resulting photographs can have completely contrasting emotions.

Oh, and by the way, several swimmers did get stranded standing on the buoy. The whole beach watched as they waited to be rescued by the coast guard as the shark circled nearby. As one man tried to mount the rail of the boat, he slipped and fell into the water.  I have never seen someone swim so fast in my entire life. The ensuing thrashing and panic was incredible as he tried to haul himself back on to the buoy. It really was like a real life scene from the movie Jaws. ––Trent Parke

Visit the Still Gallery website to see more of Trent’s and Narelle’s work and read their bios:

In addition, you can see Trent’s work on the Magnum site:

TWO WORDS: Congratulations! Felicidades!

November 19, 2009


Alex Webb, Tehuantepec, Mexico, 1985.

Please join me in congratulating Alex for winning the first photography prize from a new museum in Alcobendas, Spain, just outside of Madrid. According to the Council of Alcobendas, his photographs show a “lyric and realistic sense of childhood and an overall sense of being human.”  The winning photograph (above) is “Tehuantepec, Mexico, 1985.”  The prize will include an exhibition of Alex’s work that will run from February to May 2011.

Alex is currently in Spain where he’s receiving the prize this week.  Below are two links that include more information about Alex and the prize. The first link is to an announcement about the prize in Spanish, and the second is to an English translation on the Magnum site. –– Rebecca Norris Webb


Link in Spanish:

Link in English:

Alex Webb, Havana, 2001

And, for those of you who missed it on the RESOLVE blog this week, here’s a link to the Q&A with Miki Johnson about Violet Isle:

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, 2007

POSTINGS: November 2009

November 16, 2009

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

Bruce Davidson, Sicily, 1961


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

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

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

Link to The New York Times:

Link to The Daily Beast:


Bruce Davidson, Selma, Alabama, 1965


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996

Alex Webb, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996


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

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


for Alex

One night I see Saturn ––

between Ninth and Tenth Street ––

naked and luminous

through the glass.

You look, too:

white orb, the ring

of your laughter.

Floating home, you pull me

into your chest.

I’m light, mercury vapor,

almost yours,

until the mortal woman returns,

all curves and memory,

your arm ringing my waist.

A gift, this distance

we’ve traveled so far.

––Rebecca Norris Webb

TWO VIEWS: Santiago de Cuba

November 11, 2009

It’s nice to see that the New Yorker is featuring one of Alex’s photographs this week.  It is one of those amazing and complicated and beautiful street photographs of his, one that I think captures the feel of the streets of Santiago de Cuba, the island’s “second city,” a vibrant, one-of-a-kind Cuban city that is often overshadowed by the larger and more frequently visited Havana.

One memory I have of this remarkable coastal city is that it is so hilly that instead of having “bike taxis” like most of the cities of the eastern part of the island, it has “motorcycle taxies.” If you’re a passenger, the driver hands you a helmet, you hop on the back of the motorcycle, and off you go.

Below the New Yorker link, you’ll also find another photograph of Alex’s from Santiago de Cuba from Violet Isle.––Rebecca

Link to Alex’s photograph in the New Yorker

Santiago, Cuba, 2008

Alex Webb, Santiago de Cuba, 2008

NOVEMBER’S FOTOFORUM:  The Indelible Image

For November, the FotoForum topic will be “The Indelible Image.” For this column, we are inviting former workshop participants and other photographers to send us a jpg (72 dpi; 6 inches on the longest side) of one of the first images by another photographer that you remember seeing as a beginning photographer, an image that still lingers with you today.  If you’d like, feel free to also include a sentence or two about the photograph and your encounter with it, up to a paragraph in length (250 words max).  To continue this notion of creating an online photographic community, please also include a short bio (100 words max) and link to your website or other link that features your photographs online. ––Alex and Rebecca

Please email your indelible image (and text) to Rebecca at


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


Photo courtesy of Ricco Maresca Gallery.


Photo courtesy of Ricco Maresca Gallery.




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.



VIOLET ISLE: Book signing/gallery talk

November 6, 2009

Hope some of you can join us for the Violet Isle book signing/gallery talk on Saturday, Nov. 7th, from 4-6pm at Ricco Maresca Gallery, 529 W. 20th, 3rd floor (between 10th and 11th Aves.).––Alex and Rebecca

Click here to see pages from the newly released Violet Isle on the Magnum site.

Click on Violet Isle invitation to see a selection from the current exhibition at Ricco Maresca Gallery.

TWO EVENTS: Violet Isle

November 2, 2009