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2017 Best Books: Rebecca Norris Webb


Books Rebecca Norris Webb: 2017 Best Books Rebecca Norris Webb Selects Blind Spot, Art Can Help, and Welcome to Camp America as the Best Books of 2017
Rebecca Norris Webb
Originally a poet, Rebecca Norris Webb often interweaves her text and photographs in her six books, most notably with her monograph, My Dakota — an elegy for her brother who died unexpectedly — with a solo exhibition of the work at The Cleveland Museum of Art in 2015. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Cleveland Museum of Art, and George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY. A new edition of Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba (with Alex Webb) will be published in 2018.

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Blind Spot By Teju Cole. Random House, 2017.
 
Blind Spot
Photographs by Teju Cole

How does one begin to describe Blind Spot, a book that interweaves Teju Cole’s color photographs — which were taken during his travels around the world — with this award-winning novelist’s text pieces? Perhaps by calling it a lyrical, and sometimes surreal, travelogue, in the tradition of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, and one whose traveler has the soul of a poet, and the eye — and the worn-down soles — of a street photographer.

All I know for sure is that after reading one of the book’s most resonant passages — like “Rivaz,” near the end of the book — I slowly began to take in its accompanying photograph in a heightened state of seeing, akin to daydreaming. Over the years, I’ve found this kind of response is a sign that I’m in the presence of poetry. Perhaps this hybrid book’s subtle poetry exists in the space between its words and images — another kind of blind spot — a rich emptiness that seems filled, at times, with the faintest echoings. It reminds me of how, long after I’d finished Blind Spot, that vintner’s blue net, billowing above a mountain lake of the very same hue, still reverberates in my mind, along with the last lines of its paired text: “A gust of wind sweeps in from across the lake. The curtain shifts, and suddenly everything can be seen. The scales fall from our eyes. The landscape opens. No longer are we alone: they are with us now, have been all along, all our living and all our dead.”

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Blind Spot By Teju Cole. Random House, 2017.

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Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays 
By Robert Adams. 
Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.
 
Art Can Help:
New and Selected Essays

Text by Robert Adams

During such trying times at these, I’ve found it heartening to be in the company of work that continues to inspire and to challenge us as photographers and as human beings. With Art Can Help, not only do we get a chance to revisit the photographs of Dorothea Lange, Judith Joy Ross, Emmet Gowin, Julia Margaret Cameron — and the words of Virginia Woolf, George Herbert, Wendell Berry, and Marilynne Robinson — but our guide is the clear-eyed and insightful photographer and essayist Robert Adams:

“We are in important ways the sum of the places we have walked. And because the terrain seems so contradictory — peaceful here and terrifying there — the farther we walk the less we are inclined to claim we know.” This brings to mind one of my favorite lines by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, “Perhaps all fields are battlefields,/ those we remember/ and those that are forgotten…”

Adams is now in his late 70s, and one can only hope he’s working on another series of essays to help us through the uncertain years ahead.

Read the full review on photo-eye's blog

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Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays By Robert Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

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Welcome to Camp America
By Debi Cornwall. RADIUS BOOKS, 2017.
 
Welcome to Camp America:
Inside Guantánamo Bay

Photographs by Debi Cornwall
 
After slowly leafing through Debi Cornwall’s ironic yet quietly devastating Welcome to Camp America about the two worlds of Guantánamo — the tropical paradise-like posting for U.S. military and the notorious detention camp known for waterboarding its prisoners — I wasn’t totally surprised to come across the words of the poet and essayist Charles Simic: “The world seems to be divided today between those horrified to see history repeat itself and those who eagerly await its horrors.”

I’m especially drawn to how Cornwall, and Radius designers David Chickey and Montana Currie, secreted away the former GTMO detainees’ portraits — which are printed on loose, folded sheets within the book — between the photographs of Guantánamo Bay’s bowling alley and beach scenes, as well as the heartbreaking image of a worn, flesh-colored easy chair with ankle restraints. I remember being particularly concerned about these vulnerable, untethered portraits, and was ever so careful not to crush or damage them, as I painstakingly placed them back into the book. But perhaps I should have freed them — once and for all — from Camp America?

Now the book lies on my bookshelf alongside Philip Jones Griffiths’ Vietnam Inc., another intelligent and poignant reminder of a dark chapter in our country’s history.

Selected as a photo-eye Book of the Week

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Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay By Debi Cornwall. RADIUS BOOKS, 2017.

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