Part 6 transcription of the Q&A session during the public talk given by photographers Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, and David Chickey of Radius Books, at The National Museum Of Singapore on 9th March, 2012.
To photograph the familiar or foreign?
Question: Hi, this question is more for Alex. With the exception of the dead body, I was wondering when you photograph, do you try to engage or try not to engage the subject?
Alex: Well, I guess with the dead body, you’ll (Inaudible as audience laughs). I hate to make it a joke but you put it out there. (More laughter) You know, I’ve worked, I work with whatever the situation gives me. You know, you know, there are times when I wander through scenes and don’t interact at all with people and just photograph. And there are other times when I hang out with the people and wait. You know, it really depends on the situation and your sense of intuition. You’re not going to be able to get the photograph if you don’t interact with someone in other situations when you don’t have to. So I don’t have any hard and fast rules. I mean, the myth about Garry Winogrand was supposedly, to walk through situations and refuse to talk to anyone. You know, for me, if someone ask me a question and I’ll talk to them and I’ll hang out for a while, sometimes I’ll got off with them and other times, I’ll just take pictures and move on. It varies on the situation, whatever works.
Question: Hi Alex, some photographers photograph mostly at home. Some photographers photograph mostly in foreign places. I see that most of your most memorable works are done other places. Do you tend to see, react more sensitively to foreign places? And is it a necessary for photographers to go out with this way to seeing things?
Alex: Look, I think one can go out of one’s comfort zone in one’s own home. Frankly, I don’t think you have to go, you know. Look, different photographers are different and different things work differently for photographers. And you know, I mean I have tremendous admiration for photographers like Nicholas Nixon, Sally Mann who photograph their home, life intimately.
I’ll never been, wanted to do but I think it would mean, there was a very specific thing that happened, which is, you know, I had this sudden excitement about. It may, may have been about some kind of reaction to my past, to where I’m from and so forth, and getting away from that. But I do have this excitement, you know, about discovering something in Haiti, photography of US-Mexico border, and so forth, outside of my own society.
You know, sometimes, I wonder, you know, I come from a, I had a really great childhood. My father was a publisher, editor, very involved in writing and the arts, my mother is a sculptor, my brother became a painter. My sister dropped going to science and scape through visual arts and end up being an illustrator. (Audience laughs)
So visual arts run in my blood. And growing up, I had tremendous, my parents were most supportive and enthusiastic about what I wanted to do, not terribly judgmental. But, you know, I mean it was really a great childhood that was in the context of the community in the northeast of the United States. My father was always well-known there and so forth. There was rebellion on some levels. There was some part of me that felt that I need to leave that.
And I think Haiti did initially woken that up for me. You know, I am not sure I need that, I mean the same way now. The fact now, I am kind of intrigued by trying to photograph the United States more. Well, I have to say that in trying to photograph the United States more, the places that intrigue me are most like the borders within the United States. In other words, sort of, you know like Chicago. It is very interesting spending time in Mexican area in Chicago. So, the United States that I’ve been photographing probably won’t be, you might traditionally think of as the United States but I find that’s something interesting though. We come what we come.
So I think, you know, great if you want to photograph from your home. Great if you want to photograph elsewhere. It’s who you are and what works for you.
Text: Sebastian Song
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Q&A with Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb & David Chickey