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Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb
Q&A with DAH
(1) Both of you have heretofore been solo artists. What sacrifices did you make and/or what benefits are there to a collaboration?
AW: From my perspective, the sacrifices were not great. Early on working in Cuba, I envisioned doing my own book, but I also wanted to do something different –– something unlike any of my past books, as well as something different from any of the many past photographic books on Cuba. When Rebecca and I hit upon the notion of combining our work, this resolved these concerns of mine. I also found it very exciting to weave our two distinct bodies of work together to create a different kind of portrait of the island. In fact, I am more excited about this book than any other book of mine since Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds, my first book, which came out in 1986.
RNW: I was initially concerned that my fascination with Cuba was taking valuable time away from a project that I had always thought would be my second book, My Dakota, a project that had started out as an exploration of my relationship with the West––and specifically my home state of South Dakota––and ended up also becoming an elegy for my brother, Dave. Now, I realize that bringing out the Cuba book before My Dakota was the right decision. I needed more time and distance from my brother’s death to absorb and distill and let go of My Dakota.
And, David, you also asked about the benefits of doing Violet Isle with Alex…. Well, for one thing, it’s awfully nice having only half as many interview questions to answer.
(2) Is one of you stronger at editing than the other?
RNW: Not stronger, just different from one another.
(3) Is the sequence a collaboration or is one of you the lead?
RNW: A collaboration in the truest sense of the word. We like to think of it as a duet.
(4) Photographer style is always the mantra for today’s essayists. How do you compare each other stylistically? How do you see your individual styles blending into one?
AW: This is somewhat of a generality, but, loosely speaking, my work often gravitates towards visual complexity, with multiple layers, paradoxical juxtapositions, and frames within frames. Rebecca’s work tends to gravitate towards emotional complexity, with her work often striking different –– and sometimes contradictory –– emotional notes simultaneously, which creates a kind of emotional tension and complexity in her work akin to poetry.
We do not see our work blending into one. Instead, we see the book as interweaving our two distinct bodies of work together, much like a musical duet, with its point and counterpoint. We like to say our Cuba photographs “speak” to each other, or, as Pico Iyer says in his afterword to the book, sometimes our photographs even “rhyme.”
(5) Is this your first and last book together, or is this the way you will work from now on??
RNW: Well, our first priority remains our own personal projects. But we’re open to the possibility of future collaborations as well. In fact, we have another collaboration in mind. We’ll see what happens…
(6) Are there any historic artistic references you point to regarding a husband and wife aesthetic collaboration??
RNW: We are certainly part of a tradition of collaborative husband-and-wife photographers. Yet, one way we differ from, for example the Bechers, is that we have two very distinct visions, and our collaboration is solely in the editing process, not in the photographic process.
(7) Do you see this as a team effort designed for artistic purposes only, or is your lifestyle and marriage success a factor??
AW: This book collaboration came as a surprise to us. Rebecca and I were working on two separate projects, which, only last year, developed into a joint project. It seemed to happen organically –– which is one reason why we think it works. In retrospect, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, since we’ve been working together in other ways for some 10 years –– teaching, editing, and critiquing each other’s work. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it often takes some 10,000 hours –– or three hours a day for a decade –– to hone an art, a sport, or other skill. We’ve been working together –– as well as married –– for 10 years next month, a date that also happens to coincide with the publication of Violet Isle.
Alex Webb is best known for his vibrant and complex color work, especially from Latin America and the Caribbean. He has published seven books, and his upcoming book, Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba (with photographer Rebecca Norris Webb), will be his eighth. Alex has exhibited at museums worldwide including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, and the Guggenheim Museum, NY. He became a full member of Magnum Photos in 1979. Alex received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007 for continuing working in Cuba.
For the past decade, Rebecca Norris Webb has been exploring the complicated and vulnerable relationships that exist between people and the natural world. Originally a poet, she has shown her photographic work internationally, including at the George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York. Her first book, The Glass Between Us, was published in 2006, and her second book, Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs of Cuba (with photographer, Alex Webb), will be published in fall 2009 (Radius Books). Rebecca is currently working on a series in the American West called My Dakota.
portrait by a Cuban street photographer
“Violet Isle” is being released in November by Radius Books
There will be a book launch/exhibition of “Violet Isle” on Thursday, November 5th, 6-8pm, at Ricco Maresca Gallery, 529 W. 20th, 3d floor (between 10th and 11th Ave.), NYC, as well as a gallery talk and book signing on Saturday, Nov. 7, from 4-6pm at the gallery.
We will start a new series of presenting authors and their upcoming or just released books…this is the first…
Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..
Many thanks… david alan harvey