There are photographers who don’t need any introduction, one of them is certainly Alex Webb, one of the most influential exponents in the panorama of street photography. After joining Magnum Photos at the age of 24, his career has been a crescendo.
His bookLa Calle, made of 86 photographs, collect the work produced by Webb during his numerous trips to Mexico between 1975 and 2007. One of the most distinctive features of the photographer’s work is the use of colour, so it is surprising that the collection also includes eight black and white photographs. In fact, we must remember that Webb’s first shots, which were in black and white, allowed him to attract Magnum’s attention.
In one of these shots, we find that of the boy in the cemetery, made in 1978, while behind him there is another scene, led by two men on a horse and enriched by the decadent context of the location. This seemingly simple shot contains a remarkable complexity.
If already with black and white there was no doubt about the great talent of Webb, with the transition to
“I began to realize what Octavio Paz called “Mexicanism”: delight in the decorations, carelessness and
splendor, negligence, passion and confidentiality”.
Mexicanism, therefore, represents the risk of being kidnapped by the aesthetic details of Mexico and of having to tell this land only through visual clichés.
As you can see from the images above, Webb dedicated his work to street life (La Calle), capturing the highlights with an impeccable, perfect, far from the famous risk merely aesthetic. The colors are there, but they are part of the global narrative, they are not the pivotal point.
Webb captures his characters gently, with dignity and respect, even though the light in the images is hard and strongly contrasted.
Many of the photographs are complex “mise en-scènes”, using light, shadow and, color in extraordinary ways. In “Ajijic, Jalisco” (1983), a girl walks along a sidewalk, her movement generates shadows on the floor, which enrich the composition of the scene.
Webb has the great gift of knowing how to draw exactly what he wants from reality; the world becomes almost moldable in his hands and allows him to include and occlude what he wants inside the scenes. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case. An example of this is the shot of a man on the ground, an image that can leave us more questions than answers. Perhaps this is the true magic of Webb and, more generally, of photography.