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Alex Webb: La Calle, Photographs from Mexico

Art Scene

Alex Webb: La Calle, Photographs from Mexico

A Magnum Photos photographer since 1979, Alex Webb is known for blurring the boundaries between photojournalism, documentary and art photography. His latest exhibition at the Aperture Foundation, Alex Webb: La Calle, Photographs from Mexico, clearly skews toward the artistic.

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Alex Webb at Exhibition Opening / Photo Credit: Anders Jones

A symbiotic relationship between photographer and environment is especially evident through Mexico’s offering of a vibrantly painted architecture and Webb’s rapturous mastery of color photography; resulting in images that are simultaneously narrative, surreal and sublime.

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Exhibition Opening / Photo Credit: Anders Jones

The work, all shot on transparency, harkens back to the unique saturation, hue and tonality of pre-digital color film. For anyone who misses that magic, the work of Webb is a delightful anecdote.

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 Alex Webb, Comitán, Chiapas, 2007; from Alex Webb: La Calle (Aperture/Televisa Foundation, 2016) © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos)

Another signature meme in Webb’s photographs is his strikingly sculptural portrayal of the human figure. Whether through an intentional framing of light and shadow or the interplay of a particular moment with a particular pose, his images are elevated into the world of the imagination through his attention to the human body.

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Alex Webb, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, 1985; from Alex Webb: La Calle (Aperture/Televisa Foundation, 2016) © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos)

In the image, Boquillas, Coahuila, 1979, Webb uses the intense spectrum of daylight blues in the Mexican sky to color the upper half of the image. A pale sun faded pink paint interspersed on multiple facades in the lower half of the frame creates a subtle pinball effect for the viewer’s eyes to bounce around the photograph.

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Alex Webb, Boquillas, Coahuila, 1979; from AlexWebb: La Calle (Aperture/Televisa Foundation,2016) © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos)

The most interesting, and peculiar, part of the image lies at center left; a man jumping, suspended mid air, and tapping a pink framed white wall with an outstretched hand. The moment is confusing. It is hard to tell whether the man is ascending or descending, and it almost feels as if one were watching a video played backwards.

The man’s angular positioning and slightly split legs in the air offer a counterpoint to a tilted/crooked cross in the depths of the image. Echoing the man and the cross is the figure’s relationship to his own shadow. He appears to be jumping at his own life-like shadow, perfectly reflected on the white wall under a bright sky, except for the solid singular form of the shadow’s legs.

Countless images full of shadow play and multiple points of visual interest, from foreground to background, lend themselves to a quirky open-ended style of visual storytelling.

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Alex Webb, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, 1996; from Alex Webb: La Calle (Aperture/Televisa Foundation, 2016) © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos)

In the Afterword of Webb’s 2011 book, The Suffering of Light, he is quoted, ”It’s not just that that and that exists. It’s that that, that, that and that all exist in the same frame.”–an interesting comment that is not only true of his shooting style, but also for an increasingly interconnected, globalized world.

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