At Home on the Shoreline of Wellfleet • Alex Webb • Magnum Photos

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At Home on the Shoreline of Wellfleet

Alex Webb discusses the sleepy Cape Cod town he calls home

Alex Webb

Alex Webb Duck Creek. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. 'Home' project. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos

Wellfleet, a former whaling town sat in the curvature of Outer Cape Cod, has always been a constant in Alex Webb’s life. The Magnum photographer first visited in the 1950s, towed along by his family. Later, it would serve as a retreat, where Webb and his wife and long-term collaborator, the photographer Rebecca Norris Webb, would make space to create.

Located in Barnstable County, Wellfleet has long been an enclave of literary and artistic types. In the 1940s, after the collapse of the whaling industry, they flocked to the area on the promise of affordable land and the wild ocean vistas of the Cape Cod National Seashore. It’s these shoreline views that form the basis of Webb’s series exploring the concept of  ‘home’. The starlit evenings on Mayo Beach and the eerie quiet of Duck Creek, form a portrait of what Webb describes as a place of “metaphysical calm”.

Alex Webb Mayo Beach. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. 'Home' project. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos
Alex Webb USA. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. 2017. Mayo Beach. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos
Alex Webb At the pier. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. 'Home' project. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos

"For Rebecca, Wellfleet is where she can immerse herself most completely creatively"

- Alex Webb
Alex Webb Mayo Beach. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos

Magnum Home was conceived as part of a collaboration between Fujifilm and Magnum Photos, whereby Magnum photographers were asked to build a series around their concept of ‘home’. A group exhibition, which is showing in Paris this weekend, showcases the work made during the project. Here, Alex Webb shares a personal account of how Wellfleet has provided a rich landscape in which his creative practice has flourished.

“In the 1950s, my parents started taking the family to Cape Cod for summer vacations. In 1959, they purchased a house in Wellfleet, where I spent most of my childhood and teenage summers. In 2012, shortly after my mother died, my wife and creative partner, the photographer Rebecca Norris Webb, and I spent two weeks in Wellfleet.

During that time, we laid out two collaborative photographic books, Memory City and On Street Photography and the Poetic Image. We slowly realized that this former whaling village— a small town that I’d long associated with the literary and artistic world of my parents— was the perfect complement to our lives as somewhat peripatetic photographers.

"A place of almost metaphysical calm"

- Alex Webb

For me, somehow the serene world of Wellfleet—with its muted greys and browns and ever-changing weather—has become the ideal place to retreat to and reflect on my work, much of which has focused on vibrant tropical worlds, which have dominated my photographic life for years.

Alex Webb Duck Creek. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. 'Home' project. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos
Alex Webb Duck Creek. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos
Alex Webb Duck Creek. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. 'Home' project. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos

For Rebecca, Wellfleet is where she can immerse herself most completely creatively, diving deeply into her writing and poetic editing of her photographs, coming up for air, from time to time, to go birding or to walk with me on Great Island or at Duck Harbor. For both of us, Wellfleet has become our favorite place to build our individual and collaborative projects, including our recent joint book Slant Rhymes.

These days, whenever we can, we head to Wellfleet to edit, to sequence, to print and to write, as well as to walk the beaches and to embrace the astonishing tranquility that refreshes and inspires us creatively. I hope that these photographs begin to suggest the Cape Cod we now call home, a place of almost metaphysical calm.”

Magnum Home, supported by Fujifilm, opens in Paris on June 9. More info here.

Alex Webb Moonlight on Mayo Beach. Wellfleet, Massachusetts. USA. 2017. 'Home' project. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos