Posts Tagged ‘Under a Grudging Sun’

TWO CITIES: TORONTO and NEW YORK

April 30, 2010

Alex Webb, Gonaives,Haiti, 2000

Hope you can join us on Tuesday, May 4th, at Ryerson University in TORONTO for our joint lecture, “Together and Apart,” which is one of four evening lectures featured during the first week in May at the MAGNUM WORKSHOP at THE CONTACT PHOTO FESTIVAL (Wednesday’s lecture is by Costa Manos, Thursday’s lecture is by Alec Soth, and Friday’s lecture is by Stuart Franklin; all lectures are at 7pm).

For our lecture, Alex will show work from his second book on Haiti (“Under a Grudging Sun”) and work from his seventh book, “Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names,” which Rebecca photo-edited.  Rebecca will show a selection of photographs from her first book, “The Glass Between Us,” as well as images from her work-in-progress in the American West, “My Dakota.”  We’ll also show work from our joint book on Cuba, “Violet Isle.”–Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Rebecca Norris Webb, Sheep Mountain, S.D., 2010

NEW YORK: Richard Sandler, Street Photographer and Filmmaker

If you’re in New York the first week in May, consider joining RICHARD SANDLER at the opening reception of his exhibition, “THE FORMER NEW YORK: Photographs from the 1980’s.” The reception is at the Millennium Film Workshop from 6-8pm on Thursday, May 6th, at 66 E. 4th St. (between 1st and 2nd Ave.) in the East Village.  Afterwards, there will be a free screening of Richard’s documentary film about the East Village, “Brave New York.”

Below is what Richard, an insightful and funny street photographer and filmmaker and one of my first teachers at ICP, has to say about “The Former New York” photographs.–Rebecca Norris Webb

Richard Sandler, "CC train," 1985

“The photographs in this show were made between 20 and 30 years ago and they depict a time that lives in limbo: they are too young to be the historical records of the fuzzy past, and way too old to resemble contemporary culture, now moving at warp speed. These pictures of the recent past reveal a time just before the proliferation of computers, cell phones, I pods, digital cameras and the internet; there was no way to filter the realities of the broken city, and there was no refuge in virtual space.

For better and for worse one was simply  ‘on the street,’ in public space, bathing in the comforts, (or terrors), of the human sea. In the New York subways, graffiti tags and spray painting exploded onto every surface and whole subway cars were ‘bombed,’ windows and all. Above and below ground, crime and crack were on the rise, rents were still cheap, Times Square and the East Village were drug riddled, while in mid-town the rich wore furs in unprecedented numbers, Ronald Reagan was president, ‘greed was good,’ and Y2K hysteria was approaching.

To some, the New York City of the recent past was a hell on Earth, yet to others it was one of New York’s most fertile artistic periods. I suggest that the meanings and motives of this period are not yet clear enough to articulate, and I offer these photographs as the marbled evidence of beauty mixing with decay, and as questions about city life itself. ” –Richard Sandler

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 Literature and Photography; On Editing and Double Spreads

January 18, 2010

For January, we are featuring TWO QUESTIONS from two photographers — Natalia Jimenez, a photographer and photo editor based in New York whose family is from Peru, and Toomas Kokovkin, a geographer and photographer born in Russia, but who lives and often documents in Estonia.  They both asked questions about photography’s relationship to literature as well as about the process of photo-editing and the use of double-spreads in the photographic book. You can read more about Natalia and Toomas below.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Alex Webb, Bombardopolis, Haiti, 1986

NATALIA JIMENEZ: Alex, how has literature helped influence and shape your vision as a photographer? Who are some writers that you have found the most influential to your work?

ALEX WEBB:  Deeply buried in the back of the photographer’s mind lie all kinds of influences –– what one has seen, read, heard, experienced –– a lifetime of influences, flotsam and jetsam, and baggage, personal and cultural –– and all these things conjoin, unbeknownst to the photographer, at the moment when one presses the shutter.

My father was a writer –– albeit a secretive one –– and I have always been interested in fiction.  Though I majored in college in literature, I realized fairly early on that the process of photography –– going out and confronting the world with the camera –– worked much better for me than confronting the blank page.  However, I have definitely been influenced by writers and their vision of the world, especially in how their writings have sparked my interest in certain places.

Because of the terrible tragedy in Haiti right now, a disaster that Haiti, of all countries, is least equipped to deal with, of course Haiti comes to mind. My first reading of Graham Greene’s The Comedians in 1975, a book that both fascinated and scared me, was key in my decision then to go to Haiti for the first time, a trip that transformed me as a photographer and as a human being. And my photographic explorations of Latin American have certainly been influenced by the writings of some of the “magic realist” novelists, in particular Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa. Throughout my work in Latin America, the mundane is often transformed into the fantastical. Often people seem to morph into animals, and animals into people.  I look at some of my photographs from the Amazon or the Darien in Panama, and I think of the world of Vargas Llosa’s The Green House: steamy, isolated river towns where the military or the police swagger through, where the jungle is ever-present, always encroaching. Do I think of notions of “magic realism” when I walk the streets of little jungle towns?  Certainly not.  On the street I am in the moment. But, in hindsight –– which sometimes adds insight ––  I suspect that I am more attuned to such notions because of my readings.

N.J.: Rebecca, You are both a photographer and photo editor. How have you been able to maintain both a balance and separation between someone else’s work and your own, while contributing to another person’s vision?

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: For me at least, photography and photo editing are two very different and distinct skills.  I feel fortunate that I can do both, since not all photographers can.  (I know some very noted and talented photographers, for instance, who never edit their own photographic books.)

The challenge, as you well know, Natalia, since you yourself are both a photo editor and photographer, is how to maintain some sort of balance in one’s life.  This is the crucial question, since both editing and teaching –– which I consider similar endeavors –– can sap one’s creative energy, and make it difficult to have enough left over to feed one’s own work.   So how does one do this?  Every person is different and has different creative rhythms.  For me to ensure a creative and emotional balance in my life, it’s essential that I dedicate a majority of my time to my own personal photographic projects, so that even though I may also be working on one of Alex’s books and/or another photographer’s projects, for instance, my personal projects continue to be my first priority and I see myself primarily as a photographer and author/bookmaker.  In addition, I’ve also learned over the years to be more detached while editing another’s person’s work.  I’ve come to realize that my chief job as a photo editor is to help another photographer see how to make his or her work as strong as it can be.  I am merely a facilitator –– and on my good days, sometimes even an illuminator –– but never the author.  It is always in the end their book, their project, their assignment.  Accepting that limitation allows me to feel good about my role as editor, to let go of the projects once they are done, and then turn my attention to what’s most important in my life –– my own books and projects.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Near White Owl, South Dakota, 2009

TOOMAS KOKOVKIN: Rebecca, do you see the photographic book rather like a novel or a collection of verses?

It’s difficult to compare different arts, but if I had to select a literary form that’s closest to the photographic book –– or, at least, to the way I’ve edited and sequenced them –– I would choose the poetry book, which I guess is not a surprise considering my background as a poet. One of the main reasons I consider poetry and photography sister arts is because the poetic image –– which is suggestive and resonant and sometimes mysterious –– lies at the heart of both forms.

If I were to look at my own photographic books, I would say that they specifically resemble a certain kind of poetry book, one that is a series of interrelated poems, such as The World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic, or Wild Iris by Louise Gluck.  In both of these examples, what pulls the reader through the book is the combination of the poet’s sensibility, the resonant and suggestive images, the topic/theme of the book, and the emotional tensions and contradictions that fuel the book’s poetic journey.  I say journey, but I don’t mean necessarily a linear journey through time and space.  Instead, it is more a poetic journey through a landscape of these suggestive and mysterious and sometimes contradictory images –– some of which may be resonant moments suspended in time like a photograph ––that allow the viewer/reader to accompany the poet on the journey yet have his/her own unique experience of that same poetic journey, which may be similar to –– yet simultaneously different from –– the poet’s experience.

T.K.: Alex, how do you envision a wholeness of a photographic book? Do you see it as a movie on paper, or perhaps closer to a collection of single, distinct images?  In addition, how much does the two-page spread influence a book’s sequence and  unity?

A.W.: I think that there are different kinds of photographic books, books that strike different notes –– in their structure, their sequencing, and their design.  Some books seem like pieces of music: a big book might be a kind of symphony, a small book a kind of sonata. Other books seem more cinematic in structure, relying on jump cuts and running sequences.  (Though one could also say that this corresponds to a kind of musical counterpoint.) Yet other books seem more didactic, more rigid, more essay-like.  So I think that there are multiple analogies that can be made to clarify the nature of photographic books.

For my own books, I tend to structure them emotionally and hence –– more or less –– musically.  I often think of the books in terms of movements, movements corresponding to emotional notes, which in turn may well correspond to hues of color, or modulation of light and dark.  My first book, Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds, moves from light to dark – both literally and emotionally –– passing through a whole host of interim emotional states on the way.   From the Sunshine State, my book on Florida, has a more unsettled structure –– maybe more like jazz improvisation –– to represent the cacophony of Florida.  And Rebecca’s and my recent book, Violet Isle, works like a duet, exploring the point/counterpoint of our respective and distinct visions. Each of these books has its own  distinct structure corresponding to a series of emotional notes that I or, in the instance of Violet Isle –– we –– felt made sense for the given body of work.

Regarding double spreads (two-page spreads):  Double spreads can give a sense of drama, a kind of visual explosion, which has a very specific impact on the viewer.  But using them results in a compromise: The image is split down the middle, so sections of the image may well be obscured by the book’s gutter.  There are double spreads in both Under A Grudging Sun and Crossings because these books called out for that kind of image size and drama.  Some of my other books, however, did not demand that same level of intensity, so I ended up using the double spread for a variety of other reasons.  With Violet Isle, for instance, Rebecca and I chose to use double spreads because we wanted the viewer to go back and forth from our distinct visions with each spread. We felt this was important to emphasize the uniqueness of our respective visions while simultaneously exploring their compatibility.  And with Violet Isle, our designer chose a paperback format with a Smythe binding, which lies flatter than other kinds of binding, obscuring less of the picture in the gutter.

In the end, books are always compromises of some sort or another –– whether in the design or in the printing.  One chooses the form that best represents what you need to say about that particular project –– which is often also what you feel about it.

NATALIA JIMENEZ

Natalia Jimenez, Nairobi, Kenya, 2006

Natalia is a photo editor and photographer in New York City. When she is not hunting down the best images for the The Star-Ledger, she enjoys photographing wherever her travels take her. She studied photography at S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University and ICP.

Natalia’s website: www.nataliajimenez.com

TOOMAS KOKOVKIN

Toomas Kokovkin, "The Flying Girl"

I was born in 1960 in St Petersburg (former Leningrad), but have lived mostly in Estonia. For nearly 20 years, I have been living on the island of Hiiumaa, which is in the Baltic sea. I have a PhD in geography, and have been involved in various programs that look at the relationship between people and nature, such as World Wide Fund for Nature and the UNESCO’s program, “Man and Biosphere.”

As a research geographer, I originally focused on travel and field-work photographs, but, with time, I began to realize that there was something important that I could not catch in my photographs. Whether it was a moment, an emotion, a gesture, a mood, or something else that I could not grasp, it was so elusive that I could not name it. Early on as a photographer, I found myself too attached to words and their meanings. Slowly I began to see that through the photographic language I could begin to explain the world in a different way, without having to rely so much on words.

Recently, I have photographed projects thoughout Europe, mostly in rural and coastal areas, projects which often depict the daily lives of people in their environments. I have edited and published several books, and my work has been in exhibitions in Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Finland, and France.–T.K.

Toomas’s website:  http://toomas.fotokogu.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

BURN MAGAZINE: Alex’s response

October 17, 2009

Here’s an excerpt from Alex’s response today on Burn Magazine to a question raised by photographer Eric Espinosa.  To read all the comments, visit:

http://www.burnmagazine.org/

ERIC ESPINOSA: In a way, Alex has been true to his vision all these years and I am a huge fan but maybe he would have preferred to take his vision into more different directions?

ALEX WEBB: The questions you raise about repetition and reinvention are complicated and difficult for any photographer or artist who has been working for some time.  When does an obsession become stale?  When is one repeating oneself without expanding one’s vision?  In the early stages of one’s work, the changes are often more striking, more evident.  As one works deeper into an obsession, as one hones one’s vision and one’s craft,  the variations are often subtler. For me, some of the questions I’m grappling with are:  Are my variations on my obsessions deepening and expanding my work? Or have I exhausted the tension, the vitality, and the power of these obsessions, so that the work no longer sings?

I sometimes look at other photographers and artists to see how they have grappled with this question.   I think of photographers like Bruce Davidson, or Josef Koudelka, who have changed cameras and sometimes formats for different projects, clearly demarcating divisions between their bodies of work.  Lee Friedlander, on the other hand,  for years (until recently) never changed formats, but his projects seemed fairly unique, though clearly it was the same remarkable eye that created all the images.  And  Cartier-Bresson never changed his approach significantly for all those many years of working (though I do think there is a  difference between the early, more formal and surrealist work  — Italy, Spain, Mexico — and some of the the later work — India, China — which often seems to strike a more worldly, more socio-political note.)  As I was originally a literature major, I also often think of writers and how they have dealt with obsessions.  I sometimes feel with some of my favorite novelists that they have simply written the same book many times over.  It’s only the superstructure that changes: the essential themes, the essential elements remain fairly consistent throughout.  I also often wonder if we as photographers or artists have more than one or two serious obsessions in our life.   Maybe it’s okay to have just one — if indeed it’s rich enough, complex enough, and expansive enough.  In my case, I discovered a certain way of working in color in certain kinds of places and have expanded on that obsession for 30 some years.  Is that enough???  Or does it simply reflect my limitations?  Or are my limitations perhaps ultimately also my strength?I don’t know.  So, these questions that you bring up are ones that bedevil me — especially now, after nearly 40 years of photography.

Though I think you are right that there are certain themes, motifs, tendencies that run throughout my color work, and that some of the notes — especially visual notes — struck in, say, Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds or Under A Grudging Sun, are also struck in my Cuba work, I think that there are emotional notes that I  more consistently strike in Violet Isle that are distinct.  It’s the same photographer, the same eye, but it’s a different place and it’s a different time in life.  In my early work, I think I had a much greater need to directly confront the otherness of the world, to explore that tension, and, as in Under A Grudging Sun, to experience and photograph the violence of the world, specifically Haiti.  The Cuba work is subtler, at times perhaps more lyrical, though often tinged with melancholy (a little bit like my Istanbul work).    Yes, there are photographs in Violet Isle that could have been taken by the Alex Webb of 1986, but the Alex Webb of 1986 could not have produced the totality of this particular body of Cuba work.

Along the same lines, one of the things that appealed to me about the notion of doing a book with Rebecca was that it would be something new, a different kind of book.   I have produced books on Haiti, the Amazon, Florida, the US-Mexico Border — did I just want to do another on Cuba?   I found it very exciting to collaborate with Rebecca, to experiment, to try something different and new.   Furthermore, there have been quite a few very good photography books about Cuba.  Both of us liked the idea of producing this “duet” — a form that inevitably makes Violet Isle a unique kind of book on Cuba.

Ultimately, I don’t have any answers right now about the issues of artistic repetition and reinvention.  After all, a certain level of repetition is not problematic; in fact, the very nature of obsession implies a certain level of repetition.  Certain art forms — most notedly poetry and music — rely heavily on repetition (an obsession is “…a refrain, after all, playing itself again and again in the mind.” –– the poet, Katie Ford.)  I’m not sure what’s next for my work.  Usually I am working on several projects simultaneously, but not so right now (though I have some ideas.)  So we’ll see. I don’t think you’ll see me on the corner with an 8×10 camera anytime soon. But you never know…