I spotted Rebecca Norris Webb’s The Glass Between Us: Reflections on Urban Creatures in a local Half Price Books store, signed, for $70, if I recall. At the time (and before, and still) it was a load of money to drop all at once, but I just couldn’t resist.
Neither I nor the good people at Half Price recognized that it was signed, and I got a pretty good deal, I think. (Bookfinder quotes prices ranging from $66-206, and while this copy has some shelf wear, it’s in great shape.)
Norris Webb spent 6 years photographing in zoos and aquariums for the project, and she nailed it, I think.
The book is organized into 4 sections: I. Rodin’s Advice (“Go to the zoo! Look at an animal until you really see it!)*; II. Glass Walls (featuring an oft-quoted quote by Czeslaw Milosz); III. Audobon’s Love (featuring a poem by Robbert Penn Warren); IV. Roethke’s Paradox (with a sort of response to Rodin). Each section has a quote at the beginning, and a Reflection in the middle where Norris Webb shares a memory or short story that has some relationship to the quote at the beginning of the section.
I like this arrangement, and it works here, but I can see it being very much of the time (the mid ’00s) and quite easily overdone. Norris Webb studied poetry and picked up photography later, and writing remains a part of her practice. The Glass Between Us, as her first book, feels like a sort of training ground for the writing/photography relationship, especially when looking at the deeply personal and moving (and handwritten) bits in My Dakota.
The photography, too, is clearly Norris Webb, but equally clearly, sort of earlier, somehow, than the work in My Dakota. This isn’t to say that it’s bad— this is a great book—it’s just that there are some ideas and techniques in the later work that would’ve made this book better had she had them earlier… if that makes sense. Where My Dakota is a perfect photobook, in my estimation, The Glass Between Us is merely great…
The Glass Between Us earns a solid 4.5 stars.
The Glass Between Us hasn’t been reprinted and sold out long ago, so copies are only available in the used market. To be honest, I’m very privileged and happy to have a copy, and a signed one at that, but I probably wouldn’t go looking for one. It does make me look differently at my zoo pictures, and will be a fun thing to peruse before I visit the zoo again, but I’m not going to dream about the book tonight (and images from My Dakota have been in my dreams for the past few nights). You can get a good idea of the project, and see some of the best pictures from it, at the Webb’s website, and I definitely recommend checking it out.
*emphasis and enthusiasm, mine.