PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Slant Rhymes


Book Review Slant Rhymes Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb Reviewed by Collier Brown There’s a slow burn in the book that delights me: amber yellows that, on a first look, hint at trees trapped inside, then a cloud, then a hemisphere; or greens so soft you don’t recognize, at first, how much catastrophe they actually bear.
Slant Rhymes 
Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. 
 La Fabrica, 2017.
Slant Rhymes
Reviewed by Collier Brown.

Slant Rhymes.
Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb.
La Fabrica, Madrid, Spain, 2017. 112 pp., 80 color illustrations, 8x9½".


“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Of course, we don’t have to wait for special occasions to quote Emily Dickinson. But with the publication of Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb’s new collaborative work, Slant Rhymes, we’d be remiss not to doff our caps to the master.

Pico Iyer made the unsurprisingly astute observation about the slant rhyme we sense between Alex’s street photography and Rebecca’s impressions of the moment. It’s in the way they both capture the tenacity and stillness of a place like Cuba, says Iyer. And it’s in their sensitivity to color, the way Rebecca’s image of a bird’s lemon feathers, for instance, draws out Havana’s sun-inflected streets in another of Alex’s photographs.

As much as I adore Dickinson’s poem, I feel a little weary when I see the word “truth,” and especially, “Truth”—not because I take sides in the tiresome debate between photographers who want the truth told straight and those who prefer it slant, but because Truth so rarely shows up for its own party. In any case, Slant Rhymes is less abrupt, less impetuous, in its revelations. There’s a slow burn in the book that delights me: amber yellows that, on a first look, hint at trees trapped inside, then a cloud, then a hemisphere; or greens so soft you don’t recognize, at first, how much catastrophe they actually bear. “Truth must dazzle gradually,” says Dickinson’s poem. This book has exactly that feel.

Slant Rhymes Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. La Fabrica, 2017.

Slant Rhymes is not the first collaboration between these two photographers. Before this volume, there was Memory City (2014), a book inspired by Italo Calvino’s classic novella, Invisible Cities, and t as an exploration of Rochester, New York, after Eastman Kodak’s bankruptcy in 2012. Before that, there was Violet Isle (2009), the poetic precursor to Slant Rhymes in its vivid pictures of Cuba and its eye for the surreal within the real.

Slant Rhymes Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. La Fabrica, 2017.

There’s a kind of strange affirmation of the fantastic in Alex’s and Rebecca’s work that has nothing to do with their collaboration. Both are documentary photographers in their own right. And both, according to Geoff Dyer, play with contradiction in ways that convey the mystery of places like Haiti, Mexico, Turkey, the Amazon—even places a little closer to home, like Florida and South Dakota. Take, for instance, the photographs Alex made for his book, Under a Grudging Sun: Photographs from Haiti Libéré 1986-1988 (1989). Each one brims with death and vitality, ruin and youth, color and shadow, revel and lamentation. One knows the history; nevertheless, the images defy explanation.

Rebecca adds to these contradictions the imbalances of the man-made: wilderness seen from car windows, hand-me-down dresses without bodies. In books like The Glass Between Us: Reflections on Urban Creatures (2006), the distinctions between the human and nonhuman world break down or are called into question. The borders (a subject familiar to Alex’s work on Mexico-U.S. relations) are all transparent or permeable. Nothing is ever entirely divided. Rebecca’s photographs appeal to the eye for new biological metaphors, new ways of conceptualizing the interconnectedness of living things.

Slant Rhymes Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. La Fabrica, 2017.

For me, the question comes down to this: What does Slant Rhymes offer that Violet Isle does not? Both collaborations explore the resonance between Alex’s and Rebecca’s color photography. Both do a great job pairing thoughtful texts with meaningful images. But some of the photographs appear in both books. Sometimes they are even paired the same, such as Rebecca’s Havana pigeon alongside Alex’s two boys and plastic bag.

It seems to me that in Slant Rhymes, Alex and Rebecca reflect on one another’s work with more intention. In Violet Isle, the photographs sometimes appear as spreads, but mostly they follow one another, front to back. In Slant Rhymes, they are printed side by side in a dialog of tone, color, and sometimes content. If scale is important to you, Violet Isle may go easier on the eye, it being a larger paperback. But Slant Rhymes feels more intimate. It’s a smaller book, 8.5" x 11"— a cool mint green cloth hardcover that fits easily on the shelf among your editions of Dickinson’s poetry.

Slant Rhymes Photographs by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. La Fabrica, 2017.

The most endearing thing about Slant Rhymes, however, is that it really is more for Alex and Rebecca than it is for anyone else. In this collection, we eavesdrop on two friends slanting their truths toward one another; two partners sharing memories, curiosities, and affections. And this, to my mind, is what truly distinguishes Slant Rhymes from Violet Isle. It’s not a collaboration. It’s a conversation—intimate, illuminating, and circuitous. (“Success in circuit lies,” says Dickinson). For Alex, it’s an “unfinished love poem.” For Rebecca, “A gift, this distance we’ve traveled so far.” . — Collier Brown

Purchase Book

Collier Brown is a photography critic and poet. Founder and editor of Od Review, Brown also works as an editor for 21st Editions (Massachusetts) and Edition Galerie Vevais (Germany).

Read more book reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment