a place for sharing all things photographic and some things not

Alex and Rebecca Webb’s talk

2 nights ago, I attended a talk by Alex and Rebecca Webb. It was held at the National Museum of Singapore and the small room was packed with avid photographers (and as usual their entourage of cameras slung proudly across their chests). To quote someone I heard “I’ve never seen so many Leica’s in one room.”

The first half of the talk was sharing of work that they had done as well as both of them speaking about a joint book that is being published in Singapore. Alex is, of course, the Magnum photographer, he’s got 6 books out and a very large spectrum of works. Needless to say, he’s been shooting for a long time.   Rebecca has a remarkable collection of work too. I particularly like her series The Glass Between Us, images about the interaction between museums and zoos in cities with the people who live there. The couple’s work can be found at their shared website – http://www.webbnorriswebb.com/

Enough about their work, the bulk of the talk was a Q & A dialogue between the audience members and the Webbs (and also to their publisher, David Chickey). I’ll be posting up some of the things that I found were interesting from the session, paraphrased or summarised because I wasn’t very concerned about accuracy.

When talking about books, photography books in particular, they raised a number of good points. That books allowed both text and images to coexist in the same medium and it really gives the reader and photographer an opportunity to hold the moments in their hands. Books give you intimacy that cannot be matched online simply because one exists on a screen and the other exists in your hand. I find this to be very true with the few photography books that I have. The only drawback is that sometime’s they can be really expensive. 😦

Something interesting that Alex said about the book form was that if every image was a greatest hits, the book would lose it’s appeal … it’s continuity. He then went on to say that in his books there are some images that are there purely for the narrative to continue. Food for thought for all those out there who are compiling your own books.

Rebecca mentioned that the way the images flow in a book is much like the way the story flows in a narrative. There is a beginning, a middle and an end, both in images and in words. She said that if one were to include text into a photography book, the words have to illuminate the image, and vice versa.

Style of photography was also another thing that was brought up. To this Alex responded. Images are how you see the world. He enjoys the mystery of photography, the vague rules (or lack of them) that decide what make s a good photograph and what doesn’t. He converted from film to colour and he believes that there is an emotional resonance to colours in photographs, compared to those simply in black and white. I liked his thought that images are a collaboration between the photographer and the world. Photography is the process of getting all the odds in your favour and having a sense of faith that something is going to happen.

And there was talk too, of doubt. Doubt as the industry shrinks, doubt as one wonders whether his/her work is good enough or is simply just a waste of time. Doubt that a photographer’s accomplishments were just self-deception and in truth no one cared about the world. Alex said that this was natural, it happened to both him and Rebecca, but he didn’t mention any specific ways of curing it though.

Finally, in photography, which comes first, the emotion or the image?

The Webbs asserted that it wasn’t necessarily the emotion that formed the image, but the photographer must indeed feel something first before he/she makes the image, otherwise they would never have done it in the first place. The bulk of the emotion, however, still comes during the post-processing, when there is time and space to think and reflect. But that doesn’t mean that the two of them are not mutually exclusive. And this issue will no doubt be different for every single photographer out there.

I’ll end with a quote from Alex, that photography is indeed “a deceptively simple art form


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