As a street photographer, Alex Webb is well versed in looking to the world outside for his subjects. And over the course of his career he has been inspired time and time again by everyday life in the Caribbean and Latin America, where the scenes he captures are vibrant, serendipitous and dynamic. Above all else, they are full of color – a palette of saturated hues bathed in bright sunshine and cut through with dark shadows, which has become his signature.
But Webb’s answer to Saint Laurent’s call – for SELF 07 a body of work which both reflects his way of seeing the world, and channels the spirit of Saint Laurent – saw him turn, instead, to Los Angeles. More specifically, to the edges of downtown LA: the Flower District, the Fashion District, and the Piñata District.
“I saw it as an interesting challenge,” he explains. “Last December, I visited LA for the first time in several years. In the past, I’ve always experienced LA more as a car-oriented city with little sense of street life. These downtown areas, however, are filled with energy, and I enjoy exploring them with my camera.”
"As a street photographer, I never know what I will find when I walk out the door. With my fashion work, I try to create space for that same spirit of serendipity."
Bright and busy, he was drawn to these three places by their familiarity. “There was a sense of vibrant street life that I associate more with cities in the Caribbean and Latin America – especially in Mexico – than I do with LA,” he continues. Extrapolating on this parallel mood, Webb decided to create “a kind of visual conversation” between these new fashion photographs from the streets of Los Angeles and some of his older street work, made in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Cobalt blues, sunshine yellows, fuchsia pinks and rich blood reds flood these new photographs, in which crisp shadows follow Webb’s Saint Laurent-clad protagonists past market stalls and store windows, graffiti-strewn walls and back-streets. “I was drawn to locations that seemed visually evocative,” Webb explains of his process. “Sometimes this had to do with brightly painted walls and deep shadows.”
Shooting fashion necessitates a different way of working for the image-maker. “As a street photographer, I never know what I’ll find when I walk out the door,” he says. “With my fashion work, I try to create space for that same spirit of serendipity.”
In this case, that meant gently directing the models, while remaining open to the unexpected. “For instance, while working with the model Saye Wuo, he told me how much he liked basketball,” he continues. “Handing him a ball, I asked him to dribble it in front of a yellow wall. Unprompted, he suddenly began to bounce the ball off one of the vibrant walls. Luckily, I managed to photograph the ball in mid-air as it was leaving his hand. In his elegant Saint Laurent coat, he looks like a kind of wizard — or perhaps a figure from The Matrix — with the ball appearing to emanate from his long fingertips.”
• SELF 07 launches this week with six spectacular pop-up public exhibitions staged across six cities, from June 9–12th:
Madison Square Park, New York 10010
Open 9am to 9pm, June 9–12