The Suffering of Light, the Obsession with Color

Bombardopolis, Haiti, 1986; from The Suffering of Light (c) Alex Webb and Magnum/Aperture Foundation

“Sisyphus with Leica,” Alex Webb termed himself in three words for a Q&A with the UK Telegraph last year. The renowned Magnum photographer known for his evocative color street photos—work that he’s repeatedly called 99%, “if not more, about failure,”—will be at Aperture on Friday signing books and presenting a co-lecture with his wife and creative partner, Rebbecca Norris Webb, or “maker of books,” as she described herself for that same Q&A. The free event will take place on the first night of their SOLD OUT weekend photography workshop.

His latest monograph The Suffering of Light, published by Aperture in spring of 2011, is a retrospective of his 30-year “photographic dialogue with the streets,” he tells the Times.  Making the book, he realized, “could be a way to explore the dominant obsession of my photographic life,” he writes, “a particular way of seeing in color… inexplicable, intuitive.”  This obsession, along with his acute sense for the rhythm of the streets has manifested itself through a tremendous body of work.

Havana, 2000; from The Suffering of Light (c) Alex Webb and Magnum/Aperture Foundation

Webb recalls being originally inspired to engage with the life in public spaces as a teenager seeing for the first time the Chicago series by Ray Metzker titled “My Camera and I in the Loop” in an issue of Aperture magazine–something he paid homage to in color late last year. As he matured, however, he increasingly became drawn to places that have more evident “sociopolitical tensions,” borders and boundaries of societies, and began wandering extensively through the streets of Haiti, Mexico, Istanbul and the like. Still, he wouldn’t approach these places as a “traditional photojournalist.” Instead, his ramblings have resulted in a stunning blend of art photography and documentation.

“I’m looking for photos that have a greater level of ambiguity,” he tells the Times. “It’s more a matter of questioning or enigma than we usually associate with photojournalism, whatever that is. I’m looking for photos that ask questions. I’m not sure I’m able to provide an answer, but you ask a lot of good questions.”

Alto, Paraguay, 1990; from The Suffering of Light (c) Alex Webb and Magnum/Aperture Foundation

Lately, he’s expressed interest in returning to the United States to photograph and produce a body of work that’s closer to home. “Though it is at this point very much in a state of infancy,” he told Leica Camera blog, he and his wife “are exploring the notion of creating another joint project.”

Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb Artist Talk and Book Signing
Friday, March 23, 2012 at 7:00 PM

Aperture Gallery & Bookstore
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, New York
(212) 505-5555