Posts Tagged ‘the poetic image’

Notes on “The Suffering of Light” @ Time.com

May 16, 2011

Alex Webb, "Erie, Pennsylvania, 2010," from "The Suffering of Light"

Perhaps it’s the poet in me, but I love the irony of being able to hold in my hands a series of intangible moments — and Alex’s new book of 30 years of color work is no exception.  

To see a slide show of images  — including the one above from Erie, Pennsylvania, which was the last photograph Alex took for THE SUFFERING OF LIGHT during a road trip with me driving from New York to South Dakota last summer, and, appropriately, the last photograph in the book — and to read Alex’s notes on the bookmaking process, please follow this link to TIME.COM, where you can also leave your comments.

In addition, here’s a link to an excerpt of the Geoff Dyer essay about Alex in the book, an excerpt recently posted on the GUARDIAN website.

For those in the New York area, please join us for the book launch of THE SUFFERING OF LIGHT at Aperture Foundation, 547 W. 27th on WEDNESDAY, JUNE 1st at 6:30pm, which will include a conversation with noted critic Max Kozloff as well as a book signing. Alex and I hope to see many of you there.–Rebecca Norris Webb

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TEXT AND IMAGE: World Poetry Day

March 21, 2011

To celebrate WORLD POETRY DAY, we’ve decided to post one of Rebecca’s prose poems from her first book, “The Glass Between Us,” both in English and in Chinese, the latter thanks to the wonderful translation by fellow photographer and translator, Monica Lin, who is based in Hong Kong.  We are dedicating the poem to all the Chinese photographers we’ve met — both in the Hong Kong workshop, at our Hong Kong slide talk, and through the TWO LOOKS online photographic community.  In addition, since the poem takes place in the Caribbean, we decided to pair it with a relatively unknown photograph of Alex’s from Puerto Rico, which will appear in his new book, “The Suffering of Light.”–=Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Alex Webb, Pinones, Puerto Rico, 1990, from the book "The Suffering of Light"

Reflections: 4

Sailing in the Caribbean, I catch a mahi mahi.  It takes two men to lift its four-foot body from the sea.  On the hot teak deck, I watch the creature shift its tint, from teal to indigo to aquamarine, like having a tiny sea, beautiful and raging, at my bare feet.  As it flips and flops, I feel a little afraid of this great hulking dying thing.  I wish it would fly.  I wish it would be still.  I’m ashamed how hungry it makes me feel.

Within minutes, I slip a piece of deep red sushi between my lips.  The   freshest fish I’ve ever tasted, it is heavy and sweet and otherworldly, like a slice of mango or sex in the sun after swimming in the turquoise Caribbean.  What I hope my own death will taste like.—Rebecca Norris Webb, from the book, “The Glass Between Us”

镜像:4

航行在加勒比海,我捕到一条马头鱼。把这四英尺长的大家伙从海里拖上来竟需要兩個男人。在滚烫的柚木甲板上,我看着這個造物变换颜色,从湖蓝到靛蓝到海蓝,像我赤裸的足邊一處小小的海洋,美丽而狂暴。看着它拍打翻滚的样子,我突然有点害怕这个垂死的大家伙。我希望它飞。我希望它静止。我为自己因它而饥肠辘辘感到羞愧。

几分钟后,一块深红色的生鱼片滑进我的双唇。这是我尝过最新鲜的鱼肉了,它厚实、鲜甜、超凡脱俗,如同一片芒果,又像在宝石般的加勒比海水中暢泳之后開始的性爱。真希望自己的死亡也有同樣的味道—Rebecca Norris Webb, translated into Chinese by Monica Lin, from the book, “The Glass Between Us”

TWO QUESTIONS: On Photographs that Inspire and Confound; On Birds and Returning

January 4, 2011

This month’s TWO QUESTIONS column features questions posed by two U.S. photographers. Based in Austin, Texas, BILL MCCULLOUGH makes his living predominantly from photographing weddings.  However, he is far from your typical wedding photographer — his pictures are witty, surprising, spontaneous; they take us into social worlds not often seen so perceptively.  His humor is gentle and good-natured, very much like Bill himself.  EMILY PEDERSON is currently studying photography, languages (she has mastered Portuguese, Spanish, and Czech), and social justice at New York University.   Her grandfather was a noted underwater photographer, so she grew up with photography in her life.   She has photographed in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and New York, as well as in her home state of Rhode Island.--Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Robert Frank, "Elevator Girl, Miami, 1955" from "The Americans"

BILL MCCULLOUGH: In photography, music, painting, and many other forms of expression, there is work that strikes the perfect balance of technique and emotion that can leave one in awe.  You may ask yourself, “how did they do that?” You are both photographers who have been in the trenches and attempted many things; therefore, you also have insight, understanding, and respect of what is truly difficult to accomplish.  Is there a photographer, dead or alive, who both inspires you and stumps you?  If so, who and why?

ALEX WEBB:  Ever since I first picked up a copy of Frank’s The Americans –– sometime in the late 1960’s –– my favorite photograph in the book has always been the mournful elevator girl.  I hesitate to say much of anything about it because Jack Kerouac in his introduction to the book said just about everything that needs to be said:  “And I say: That little ole elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of blurred demons, what’s her name and address?”   What Kerouac latches onto is what has always most intrigued me about Frank’s work, its emotive heart.  Somehow, Frank managed to make deep and surprising poetry out of the mundane stuff of the world of America.

That quality is still what interests me most about Frank’s work. But looking back now at this photograph, I am also intrigued by how it speaks of another era in America.  I can’t recall when I last saw an elevator girl.  The notion seems quaint.  It makes me almost nostalgic, nostalgic, among other things, for a more intimate world, where human beings –– including those in more menial positions –– somehow seemed to count.  Now, soulless elevators in Miami gleam of burnished chrome.  Chimes denoting each floor have replaced the human voice.  Modern demons may sometimes stalk these elevators, but mournful elevator girls are long gone.   I guess today, Kerouac would have to go elsewhere to find a name and number.

Robert Frank, "Barber shop through screen door, McClellanville, SC, 1955," from "The Americans"

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: From the moment I first saw a print of Robert Frank’s barbershop in McClellanville, South Carolina, the image has lingered with me, a sign –– I’ve learned to trust over the years –– of a truly poetic image.  Like the strongest and most resonant poems, the image sends me into a kind of reverie each time I view it.  I think this has something to do with the fact that it’s a reflection, one that blurs inside and outside, like a daydream. So, for me at least, Frank’s mysterious barbershop blurs into the barbershop in my small town in southern Indiana where I was born.  Like Frank, I, too, have pressed up against a small town barbershop’s screen door, have seen into the interior thanks to my own shadow.  Come to think of it, the screen door itself seems somehow quintessentially American (I don’t recall coming across that many screen doors in Europe, for instance…).  The screen door is welcoming yet protective, practical yet vulnerable, luring both june bugs and photographers alike.

ROBERT FRANK LINKS:

Link to NPR story:  “Robert Frank’s Elevator Girls Sees Herself Years Later”:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112389032

Link to Robert Frank’s book, “The Americans”:

http://www.amazon.com/Americans-Robert-Frank/dp/386521584X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294157675&sr=8-1

Link to reviews of the “Looking In: Robert Franks” The Americans” show:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/14/090914fa_fact_lane

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/2009/sep/29/looking-in-robert-franks-emthe-americansem/

Links to reviews of Robert Frank’s,  “The Americans”

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100688154

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/01/0082794

Rebecca Norris Webb, Havana, 2008, from "Violet Isle"

EMILY PEDERSON: Rebecca, what is it about birds?  In Violet Isle, birds are constantly appearing in your photographs. Why is that? What is it that draws you to birds?

RNW:  As someone who comes out of the street photography tradition, I only photograph what I come across in the world, and the most common creature I found in Cuban menageries was the bird –– from roosters and peacocks and woodpeckers to cockatiels and pigeons and parrots.  I love the rich and resonant questions this suggests:  Of all the creatures, why are birds the most popular animal in Cuban menageries?  What does this suggest about the individuals who have these menageries?  What does this suggest about Cubans and their relationship to nature?  And what does this suggest about Cuban culture more generally?

What I love about photography –– and poetry –– is that sometimes images have the ability to suggest these sorts of questions.  One of my favorite lines about birds is by the poet, Li-Young Lee:

Only birds can reveal to us dying by flying.

And just yesterday I came across these two wonderful lines by T.S. Eliot in his poem, “Four Quartets”:

…a hollow rumble of wings…

…wait for the early owl…

Personally, when I first started photographing birds in Cuba, it was a period in my life that roughly corresponded to my acquiring my first pair of professional birding binoculars, inspired in part by the red-tailed hawks in Prospect Park near my apartment, the same kind of hawk that’s also found in my home state of South Dakota.

During one of my last trips to Havana, I remember the delight of watching a hawk attempting to open her wings just inches away from me –– instead of my observing the raptor from the usual distance of my field glasses.  Yet simultaneously I also felt a something catch in my throat as I watched the hawk fumble, unable to spread her wings fully in so small a cage .  Looking back, I realize that I often had this complicated and seemingly contradictory emotional response –– delight and discomfort –– while photographing caged birds throughout Cuba.

Li-Young Lee link:  http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/291

LInk to T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Four Quartets”:  http://www.tristan.icom43.net/quartets/

Alex Webb, Havana, 2008, from "Violet Isle"

 

EP: Alex, when you photograph you seem to go back again and again to a particular place. You don’t move there for a while to carry out your work, but you return over and over. How does that affect the way you see, the way you work?

AW: My meanderings in a country are rarely planned.  For instance, in Havana, even when I find myself working in the same neighborhood, it is often somewhat by chance: I wander into the same locale three days later –– or even, perhaps, a year later.  And even if I contemplate returning to a specific area, it is often a spur of the moment decision: I find myself completing work in one street or block and suddenly decide to return to somewhere that I have been before.  Sure, sometimes I may decide that a street or a market that I photographed in the morning might be more interesting in the afternoon or vice-versa, but as often as not the return to a particular locale is serendipitous.

For instance, the above photograph was taken during my last of 11 trips to Havana over 15 years.  Who know how many times I had walked down this particular street during my other trips.  But the particular mood and color and feel of the street caught my eye in fall 2009.

EMILY PEDERSON

Emily Pederson, Prague, 2009

I was born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1989. I study photography, Portuguese, and Spanish at the Gallatin School at New York University.

My grandfather was an undersea photographer and cinematographer, and documented undersea life in the Bahamas in the 50s and 60s. So there were always neat old cameras in my house as I was growing up, and I started to take photographs early on. The summer after my junior year in high school I lived in Peru for a month doing volunteer work at an orphanage. It was my first true experience of life elsewhere, and it played out like a fever dream. I took thirty rolls of film, and after that was significantly more fascinated by photography.

After graduating high school, I moved to New York City and have lived there since, except for four months last year, which I spent studying in Prague, learning Czech and traveling in Eastern Europe. I’m currently working with Alex Harsley at the 4th Street Photo Gallery, which he established in 1971, helping him distribute his work and documenting the history the gallery has witnessed. I see photographs as agents of information and as records of light. What allures me the most is how photography gives us the ability to freeze time.–Emily Pederson

My website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emilykpederson/

BILL MCCULLOUGH

Bill McCullough, Waco, Texas, 2005

American photographer Bill McCullough was born in 1963, in Dickenson Texas. He graduated with a degree in Plan II economics from the University of Texas at Austin in 1986. He is a self taught photographer. His work has been published in Spot (Houston Center of Photography), United States; and Photonews, Germany. In 2008,  his work was purchased for the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. His first solo show will take place at the SRO gallery at Texas Tech University in March, 2011. He has been chosen as a 2010 Fotofest discovery. He currently resides and works in Austin, Texas.

Bill’s webswite:  www.billmccullough.com

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