Webb began his career as a photographer in the 1970s, making pictures of the American social landscape in the streets of New England and New York, working exclusively in black and white. In the preface to The Suffering of Light, he describes having “reached a kind of dead end” in photography, as well as an eagerness to explore new territories. That year, in 1975, inspired by Graham Greene’s novel, The Comedians, he jumped on a plane to Port-au-Prince to discover the turbulent world of Haiti through the eyes of his lens.
The first three-week trip transformed Webb, introducing him to new worlds of emotional vibrancy and intensity that he described as “raw, disjointed, often tragic”. After traveling for a further three years, he made a commitment to fully embrace color photography in order to translate the vibrant color of these worlds.
The Suffering of Light was originally published by Aperture in 2011, and was Webb’s first comprehensive survey book, presenting 120 of his most iconic images from his travels in Southern America, Africa, India, Europe, and beyond. Today, The Suffering of Light remains a landmark photobook, and Webb is internationally recognized for his work, characterized by intense color and light, capturing everyday scenes that often reveal wider tensions or convey a sense of enigma, irony, or even humor.
Searing light and intense color seemed somewhat embedded in the cultures that I had begun working in, so utterly different than the gray-brown reticence of my New England background. Since then, I have worked predominantly in color.
An aspect of Goethe's theory of color is that he felt that color came out of the tension between light and dark. I think that is very appropriate when you think about the kind of color that I shoot.
Watch Alex Webb give a tour of his exhibition, The Suffering of Light, at our Paris gallery, on view until 31 July, 2022.
Webb’s photography has seeped into photography’s consciousness, and it is high time it is properly celebrated.
Webb joined Magnum Photos as a full member in 1979, and over the ensuing years has worked extensively in Latin America, the Caribbean, and beyond. He has published 18 photobooks, including Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names, La Calle: Photographs from Mexico, and Waves, his latest
collaboration with Rebecca Norris Webb, published by Radius Books this spring.
Webb is exhibited at museums worldwide, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Life, and many other publications. He has received numerous awards, including the Leica Medal of Excellence in 2000 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007.