Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb – ‘on Street Photography and the Poetic Image’

My affair with Aperture’s Photography Workshop Series of books started with Todd Hido’s incredible on Landscapes, Interiors, and the Nude. Later on, I picked up Larry Fink’s on Composition and Improvisation, thanks to a recommendation I saw on Twitter (review forthcoming), and before I knew it, I hunted down and picked up copies of the other two books in the series, Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb‘s on Street Photography and the Poetic Image and Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment (review forthcoming).

Note: the film is slightly soft due to a focusing error. Apologies.

Unlike the other books in the series, on Street Photography and the Poetic Image mixes in photographs from other photographers: Charles Harbutt, Josef Koudelka, Harry Gruyaert, Robert Adams, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Lee Friedlander, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Ray Metzker, Eugene Richards, Dmitri Baltermants, and André Kertész. And the mixing in of these others, all giants in the history of photography, makes this book feel much more like a lecture than other books in the series, with Webb and Norris Webb commenting on how these other photographers influenced them and their work.

Insofar as on Street Art and the Poetic Image was the first book in the series, I wonder if they left out this part of other books due to reader feedback, or if it was more rights and image acquisition issues (or both). Whatever the cause, where the other books are walks through a photographer’s career, on Street Art is much more of a lecture format. Also different is how short the various segments are. Each section of the course is scarcely more than a page, with one or two photographs and a page of text (at most), each talking about one facet of process, or telling a brief story about the life of a photographer, the walking, waiting, making contact. Other books in the series have longer sections with greater focus on specific topics, or maybe that’s just a feeling I get from the more singular voice, after all, Webb and Norris Webb are two different people, with different concerns and habits, interests, and ways of working; Web is a photographer who discovered color in Haiti and never gave up that contrasty light; Norris Webb started as a poet, and you can see the stillness and emotion and beauty in her work.

Images from Webb and Norris Webb, particularly Norris Webb, are printed with more contrast and saturation than is found in other books. It doesn’t do much to Webb’s work, which is already so contrasty, but it takes something away from Norris Webb’s work, though if I didn’t have other books by them, I probably wouldn’t notice much.

As the first book Aperture’s Photography Workshop Series, on Street Photography and the Poetic Image has some misses in it that are corrected in the other three (so far—hopefully others are on the way), but it’s still a great read. Webb’s way of working is interesting and attractive to me, but Norris Webb’s method is much more inspiring and intriguing. Webb’s images are, to me, about presence: he’s there, and as viewers, we’re there too, in that hypercolor world. Norris Webb’s pictures are more about distance, separation, stillness, being on the inside and looking out at the world. There’s a slippage in her work between foreground and background, a confusion, I’m sometimes not sure what I’m looking at, and reading some about her thought process and ways of working lends great insight.

 

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Overall, on Street Art and the Poetic Image gets 3.8 stars.

The whole four book series will set you back around $100 new, and maybe less used, and with the free Learning guides from Aperture you can easily put together a class for yourself, as I should really do sometime. (Find them all in the Education Section of Aperture’s online book shop.) The series is great, and Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb‘s on Street Art and the Poetic Image is no exception.

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