Rebecca Norris Webb

Book Review Slant Rhymes

© Rebecca Norris Webb

“Why do I see you more clearly when we’re worlds apart?
Is distance itself a kind of love letter?” – Rebecca Norris Webb


─── Josh Bright, March 19, 2020

Slant Rhymes is a fascinating multi-disciplinary dialogue between American photographers Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb and the third book the acclaimed photography couple has released collaboratively.

Inside a Pigeon Coop. Havana, Cuba 2007 © Rebecca Norris Webb
Inside a Pigeon Coop, Havana, Cuba. 2007 © Rebecca Norris Webb


Unlike the first two,
Violet Isle, published in 2008, and Memory City in 2014, which focus on Cuba and Rochester NY, respectively, this book encompasses 80 photographs drawn from their respective bodies of work, depicting a diversity of places, from Mexico, Turkey, and India, as well as Brooklyn, NY their hometown.

Street scene in Ayvansaray, Istanbul, Turkey 2001 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Street scene in Ayvansaray, Istanbul, Turkey. 2001 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos


Presented in pairs, one from each photographer, the stunning imagery displays both their individual virtuosity and unique sensibilities. Alex, a renowned photojournalist, street photographer and member of the Magnum Agency, is a master of capturing the decisive moment.

His images invariably feature human subjects and are permeated with visceral energy and movement, whilst in contrast, Rebecca’s subtle depictions are more suggestive, imbued with multi-layered symbolism, and abstruse metaphors.

Inside church, Arcahaie, Haiti. 1987 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Inside church, Arcahaie, Haiti 1987 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Stained Glass, Missouri River, USA. 2006 © Rebecca Norris Webb
Stained Glass, Missouri River, USA 2006 © Rebecca Norris Webb


In spite of their divergences, paired images form a visual conversation, ‘rhyming’ with one another in an enigmatic fashion that reflects the book’s title, which refers to the term used in poetry to describe an imperfect rhyme.

Images are at times united in their subject matter: an empty seat on a train carriage in Indiana, resembles another abandoned on an Istanbul street; though invariably the connection is more subtle, a shared palette, or single tone.

Caged birds, Cuba 2008 © Rebecca Norris Webb
Caged birds, Cuba. 2008 © Rebecca Norris Webb


In Havana, Rebecca captures the barely definable shape of a bird as it flashes across her lens, the bright yellow of its feathers mirroring that of the dresses worn by a group of women near Alappuzha in India’s southern state of Kerala.

Near Appuzha, India 2014 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Near Appuzha, India. 2014 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos


At times, the synchronicity is multilayered, perhaps exemplified most proficiently in Alex’s image of a Cuban man as he bends down to fix an unknown object, his arched frame, mimicking that of arid flowers in one of Rebecca’s many depictions of South Dakota, whilst the muted pastel hues of both scenes are also remarkably similar, indicative of their mutual, and perhaps partially subconscious inspiration.

Havana, Cuba 1993 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Havana, Cuba. 1993 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Blackbirds. Near Gray Goose, South Dakota, USA 2006 © Rebecca Norris Webb
Blackbirds. Near Gray Goose, South Dakota, USA. 2006 © Rebecca Norris Webb


The prose, which intermittently accompanies the images, serves to further enhance the book’s conversational sensibility, thus representing both artists’ deep connection with the written.

As a young poet fresh out of college, Rebecca turned to photography as a stimulus when writer’s block took hold; she discovered reciprocity between the two mediums which she has continued to explore throughout her career; whilst Alex (who majored in literature), hails books as the inspiration behind much of his work.

Outside of the Blue Mosque during Ramadan. Istanbul, Turkey. 2001 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Outside of the Blue Mosque during Ramadan. Istanbul, Turkey 2001 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Istanbul, Turkey 2003 © Rebecca Norris Webb
Istanbul, Turkey. 2003 © Rebecca Norris Webb


Snapshots of past journeys seem to flash before the readers’ eyes like memories, weaving a myriad of unfinished tales.

Traditional concepts of time and space seem impotent; with events, though often separated both by time and place, sharing an ineffable connection, giving the sense that they are occurring simultaneously: two young boys, their silhouettes partially framed by a rainbow, play amidst a downpour on a Pennsylvania street; in South Dakota, Rebecca captures (through a rain speckled window), the moment ethereal lights pierces dark storm clouds.

Erie, Pennsylvania, USA 2010 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Erie, Pennsylvania, USA. 2010 © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos
Storm Light. Near Fairburn, South Dakota, USA. 2011 © Rebecca Norris Webb
Storm Light. Near Fairburn, South Dakota, USA. 2011 © Rebecca Norris Webb


In a recent interview with Magnum, Rebecca described photography and poetry as ‘sister arts’; united in their preoccupation with light and time, the fleeting moment and the resonant image, and also in their power to suggest rather than explain; an assertion which rings true in
Slant Rhymes, a masterpiece of visual storytelling, which acts both as a compelling retrospective of their work, and also as a testament to their enduring love.

 

Slant Rhymes is published by La Fabrica.

All images © Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb