Magnum and Haiti intersect in a number of portfolios. Having done a lot of looking recently (here, here and here) Alex Webb‘s photography stands out.

Webb’s photography is unmistakable; he carries his busy compositions across the globe – Turkey, Santo Domingo, Mexico, Haiti …

Alex Webb. TURKEY. Istanbul. 2001. View from a barbershop near Taksim Square.

Santo Domingo. 1980. ©Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

© Alex Webb, Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1990

© Alex Webb/Magnum photos. TURKEY. Istanbul. 2004. South of Uskudar. Along the sea wall in the late afternoon.

I’ve often wondered what Webb’s thinks when he approaches groups of people and accoutrements. Indeed, I’ve wondered if (at this point) sniffing out these hectic visual environments is an unconscious practice.

On his blog today, Webb responded to a reader’s question about the framing of his images:

Saying “to run an anatomy of the scene” makes the process sound highly analytical.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

My process is not about thought, not about analysis, but rather about feeling the totality of a scene and responding intuitively, emotionally, non-rationally.  I have sometimes used the word “smell” in this context (and I think I am paraphrasing Cartier-Bresson) specifically because smell is sensory, not rational. The process can be a bit mysterious.  When I photograph, I sense the possibility of something — something about the feel of a place, the situation, some impending moment, the light, the color, the space, the shapes — and I often hang out and wait, hoping that something will happen, something will emerge.  But I’m never sure quite what this something is.

For me, the elements that go into the picture are often emotional elements: not just what is in fact “happening” in a situation (the purported “subject” of the image), but the space, the color, the light.  Form isn’t just form, it can be emotion.  Color isn’t just color for color’s sake, it, too, carries emotion.  Sometimes a shape in the foreground becomes some kind of transformative element, sometimes an empty space strikes a special emotional note, sometimes the color changes what wasn’t an evocative scene into something very different.

[My underling]

The term composition is more appropriate to describe Webb’s photography than that of his contemporaries. He stalks opportunities to frame multilayered compositions, in that he puts himself in the best spot and then lies in wait. And his compositions, akin to music, “strike emotional notes”.

Webb states his process is not analytical, but I wouldn’t say it isn’t disciplined.

View Webb’s Magnum portfolio and a sumptuous Webb selection of images with high contrast compositions from The Edelman Gallery.