Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1997/08/06

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Subject: Re: Alex Webb
From: Kari Eloranta <>
Date: Wed, 6 Aug 1997 12:37:54 +0300 (EET DST)

> From: George Huczek <>

> He certainly has a style, but not necessarily one which is entirely unique
> and instantaneously recognizable.  It falls within a genre of
> photojournalism which others in Magnum and NG especially seemed to follow.
> I would not say that his photos trivialize life.  His pictures from Haiti,
> for example, depict a way of life which has been stripped of its dignity.
>    Blood-stained corpses lying in the middle of a deserted street, where
> others hide for fear of reprisals from the secret police, shows how
> difficult it was to set up "free and democratic" elections in that country.
>  That was the reality of life there.  Looking at a culture from the eyes of
> an outsider, allowed him to see things that those immersed within the
> culture normally take for granted.
>    There is no slick, artificial composition.  The photos are raw and their
> power comes from their content.  In pictorial work, a few power lines
> running through the top of a photo, or some misplaced trash might spoil the
> picture.  In real life, the dirt and the corruption and the sleaze are part
> of the reality that is being depicted.  Unlike Allard, there are strong
> elements of boldness of colour and strict compositional framing in some of
> Webb's photos.  His style can shift from one form to another, depending on
> the subject matter and mood.
>    Not all people are moved by that type of photography, admittedly, but
> the lasting nature of the images suggests quite strongly that there is an
> audience out there that needs to be shown the graphic, grim reality that
> faces many in all parts of the world.  This is not a trivialization of
> life.  It is a recognition of how life is in many underdeveloped nations.
> It is stark and naked.
> - -GH

Thanks George for your comments. I don't much buy photo books but I on
the basis of what I've seen of his work it splits. There is the raw
photojournalistic work that you discuss mostly. Quite a bit like
Meiselas's etc. Might be his most influential work (so far) as it displays
reality in such uncompromizing fashion that it convinces by shock.

The other side is the more abstract, wild work. How do you capture the
everyday existence in a noplace in the south? The mood that takes over
when it is 40C, no-one cares to work and the only boat to town is a week
from now? Or the opposite, a totally crazy market in the middle of an
inpenetrable jungle. He often uses a strictly color driven composition to
cut these moods out of the air. This is the hard part of his work that
I'm intrigued. Will this kind of work be taken seriously or will it fall
victim of the digital age - this is not real "classical" photography
anymore but altered reality or is it? 

And then there are things inbetween, lyrical documentary or such. See the
article on Brazil from early 90's in NG. A charming piece. Yet even there
you can see the quirkiness.

I've been watching his stuff ever since an offhand remark he made in an
interview got me thinking and then experimenting with the different ways
one sees thorough SLR and RF.