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Matinee: Alex Webb Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

1 November 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the fifty-seventh in our series of Saturday matinees today: Vogue Masters: Alex Webb.

On the occasion of his 2012 exhibition The Suffering of Light: Thirty Years of Photography at Forma, Milan, Alessia Glaviano interviews Vogue Master Alex Webb.

The 20-minute interview, though, is cut so only Webb is speaking and the questions that prompted him are nicely trimmed away. So the effect is of Webb reflecting on his career from his early start as an uninterested boy in his father's darkroom to his early acceptance into Magnum beyond his black and white work into the world of color that established him as something of a Gauguin of photography.

He chases color to Haiti and Mexico, describing how he works, his reluctant abandonment of film for digital and what precisely about it bothers him. But there's no nostalgia in his remarks. Certain experiences and qualities are lost and replaced, he is keenly aware of them and pinpoints them for us.

With his wife and creative partner Rebecca Norris Webb, he reviews his images (and hers). Their rule is that the creator of the image makes the decision about what survives the editing process and what doesn't. But that the decision can be amended, too. Time is a great help in editing, he says.

He speaks eloquently of the editing process as an extension of the capture. Not post processing so much as the curatorial function of deciding which images work and which do not. Because an image "works" only to express what the editor intends -- and it's much better if the photographer is the editor intending rather than some third party.

Earlier he speaks about the importance of awards. First, that in themselves they are not very important (although he applauds others who have won them). Second, that when they come with monetary prizes, they permit the work to continue. He cites several examples of how he was able to continue projects with money he was awarded.

When he describes "smelling" the possibility of a photo, you share his excitement about chasing down an image. Thinking it is right in front of you, or will be. Turning a bit to find something going on and then -- out of the blue -- something you never expected unfolds in front of you.

The film is a bit challenged by the setting as the videographer constantly fights reflections from the spotlights while shooting the hung photos. Fortunately, a few of Webb's images appear in the film in a more straight-forward style so they can be appreciated.

But it's Webb's articulate discussion about the process that we found most rewarding.

"The world is a complicated, mysterious place," he says, "and each of us has our own individual points of view but they're just our own individual points of view. And ultimately there's so much we don't know and I'm intrigued by that."

Underlying that is an acceptance -- even more, a love -- of the world that is reflected in his vibrant images and this short but engaging interview.

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