Images of devastation, sadness and homelessness from Haiti’s earthquake three years ago jarred the conscience of distant audiences.
The works of photojournalist Alex Webb, however, give a different picture of Haiti. Webb’s work features Haitian and other cultures on the periphery of Western civilization and pushes beyond manifestations of poverty, political dissonance and environmental stress to find the compelling, beautiful or even tragic aspects of life.
On December 14, the Brigham Young University Museum of Art (MOA) will open the traveling exhibition, Alex Webb: The Suffering of Light: Thirty Years of Photographs, featuring 45 of Webb’s large pigment prints. The exhibition is organized by Aperture Foundation in New York.
The title of the exhibition and its accompanying book comes from a quote by Goethe that “colors are the deeds and suffering of light.” The power of color to communicate and bring about shared understanding is a seminal aspect of Webb’s work.
“This book is not about a place, or a specific subject, or even a theme. It is about a way of seeing in color,” Webb said. “As I understand it, Goethe believed that colors emerged from the tension between lightness and darkness, a notion that has always intrigued me.”
The appeal for BYU audiences, according to Diana Turnbow, Curator of Photography at the MOA, is Webb’s international focus. “It’s very compelling for our campus audience, not only in terms of his subject, but also his style.”
Webb is recognized as a pioneer of American color photography and has consistently created photographs characterized by intense color and light. His work, with its richly layered and complex composition, touches on multiple genres, including street photography, photojournalism and fine art. This eclecticism doesn’t bother Webb, who said “To me it all is photography.” He continued, “You have to go out and explore the world with a camera.”
Webb sees his role as a photographer in parallel to that of a novelist who creates evocative images of a particular locale. His photographs are characterized by vivid color, complex composition and unique gesture that come together in the serendipity of the moment.
Webb’s photographs show people doing everyday — and occasionally extraordinary — tasks. “I am struck by Webb’s ability to give himself to the moment of the photograph,” Turnbow said. “It’s the lyricism found in the color of the setting or the gesture of his subjects that deeply imprints upon the viewer and potentially creates a connection that can lead to further inquiry, empathy and a measure of understanding of a particular place or people.”
Webb will give a lecture co-hosted by the MOA and David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies in March 2013. The art exhibition will also be the focus of the First Fridays at the MOA event in February.