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Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image: The Photography Workshop Series Paperback – June 30, 2014
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As a reading experience, the books feel more like monographs with expansive captions than generic how-to guides. –Eye Magazine
About the Author
Alex Webb is best known for his vibrant and complex color photography, often made in Latin America and the Caribbean. He has published eleven books, including Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba (with Rebecca Norris Webb) and The Suffering of Light, a collection of thirty years of his color work. Alex became a full member of Magnum Photos in 1979. His work has been shown widely, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. He’s received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and GEO, among other publications.
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I really admire their work, so I was really let down here.
No one expects Garry Kasparov to describe how the chess pieces move. We expect him to write about how he evaluated a position or an opponent and how it made him act. We don't need Webb and Norris Webb to tell us about f-stops and shutter speeds, or the merits of RAW v JPEG. Even with these concessions, however, the practical advice here is severely limited, and at times, borderline insulting.
For example, in one layout Webb prints the beautiful image of a street in Bombay that includes two giant eyes, apparently part of advertising placards, staring back at the viewer. A young girl peeks out from behind another advertisement -- a photo so strong it was the cover of his book "The Suffering of Light." The text is not about the creative choices he made that yielded the photo, why he chose to frame it this way, or what he was trying to communicate. Instead he gives some broad advice about how what works in photographing one place doesn't work in others. In Morocco, most people don't like having their picture taken. In India, many do. Takeaway: Photography depends on where you are. Thanks for that.
In another section, Webb describes how he follows the "smell" of an image. It's a familiar phrase photographers use, but here is the famous Magnum image-maker describing it. Fantastic. So what sets off his Spidey sense? He doesn't say. "It all depends on what the world gives me on a particular day," he writes. Probably true, but he might as well have written: In order to make good photographs, be a good photographer. Also true -- but c'mon.
In another layout, Webb talks about one of his trademarks: His "crowded" images, some of which, he suggests, approach visual "chaos." Finally! So how does he put them all together? Is it pure luck that requires hundreds of frames? Does he ask people to stay in place in order to build additional layers in front of or behind them? Does he use a long lens to compress scenes to create the complexity he wants, or work within a wider-angle perspective? This is a "workshop series" book, but there's no workshop here -- all Webb says is he likes complicated pictures because "the world I experience is a complicated and ultimately inexplicable place."
The process that went into creating these images is, apparently, also inexplicable.
Sam Abell will tell you how he creates Sam Abell pictures in his The Life of a Photograph. Steve McCurry will tell you how he creates Steve McCurry photos in Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs. But in this book, Alex Webb will just not tell you how to create Alex Webb pictures.
I'm learning as I read the book, but mostly I'm testing my own thoughts on how to take the best pictures with the Webbs' explanations and short essays on how their best pictures came to be.
The book takes us very close to the best personal seminar with a great photographer - highly recommended.