Book Review: The Suffering of Light By Alex Webb

Alex Webb is undeniably one of my favorite and one of the top most influential street photographers in my opinion. The images he’s made has thought me to see colors, light, and shadows, and to compose in layers. I’m still learning these things up to now and I am so glad that I’ve bought one of his books showcasing 30 years of color work, The Suffering of Light.

In this article, I will share with you what I’ve learned from the images in this book, what photographs that stood out, captured my interest and what I generally think about this piece of gem.

Portraits

In this book, Webb had showcased his ability to take portraits. A type where people and the background are the subjects. The foreground and the background work together to build a wonderful photograph. It’s miles apart from the kind of portraits we are usually exposed to.

It’s clearly dominated by the street photography and documentary nature of Alex Webb’s shooting style. People are, in my point of view, looks like they posed for the camera yet unrefined unlike how models would professionally pose. They look too natural and casual. Beautifully composed, complimented by the colors and unexaggerated body language.

 Gouyave, Grenada 1979 ©Alex Webb

Gouyave, Grenada 1979 ©Alex Webb

Use of interesting background

Another interesting to point out in this book is how Webb somehow showed the contrast between the main subject and the background. The foreground usually pictures a bright and positive feeling whereas the background translates this darkness, sadness or tragic emotion to the viewers. Putting all these together makes a beautiful but somehow confusing and haunting image.

What’s truly amazing about these photos is that the images are open to interpretation. It’s solely dependent to how the viewers would read the story.

And to make it more fascinating is that somehow these photographs reveal a person’s view in life whether he or she is optimistic or a pessimistic character. To be honest, when I look at these photos, I get the feeling of being sorry. As if “Yeah, you look happy now, but wait till you see what’s coming for you” kind of vibe (Yeah I’ve got that negativity in me I guess). But I fully understand how other people will see it the other way around. Looking at the positives despite the negativity surrounding life.

 Brooklyn September 11, 2001 ©Alex Webb

Brooklyn September 11, 2001 ©Alex Webb

Emotions and Gestures

The book includes photographs that are overwhelming with emotionsand gestures, all accompanied by the brightly rendered colors, hard shadows and lively textures. The emotional impact to the audience is undeniable. Webb’s images can transmit the heaviness, the hardship or the excitement to the viewers just by looking at it. It’s as if you are with these people and you experience the emotion with them.

The best thing about these photos is how they are precisely captured. As if orchestrated to get the right shot. It’s like a scene from a movie that is at it’s peak of it’s climax where everyone is pouring out their emotion. All actors giving their all in that scene, then you paused it at the exact maximum emotional outbursts. That’s what you see in his photographs.

 Tenosiqie, Mexico 2007 (Murder outside a bar) ©Alex Webb

Tenosiqie, Mexico 2007 (Murder outside a bar) ©Alex Webb

Light and Shadows

Personally, the use of light and shadows in this book is one of the major characteristics of Alex Webb’s photographic genius. It’s almost visible in every photograph he’s included in this book. It’s crazy how he’s able you compose and tell a story with omitting and revealing subjects through the absence of light or the presence of it as it shines on the subject/s.

The use of silhouettes also creates mystery to the picture.  And with other elements partially revealed by the light, somehow creates this feeling of suspense and curiosity. As if something is going to happen. Something terrifying perhaps and only you, as the viewer, can see it.

Or how it’s able to challenge you to question what the photo is trying to tell you. There are clues to complete the story yet obscured by the lack of detail created by the strong, solid shadows. It’s amazing how it stimulates your brain and pushes it to work a little harder and provide you with a better imagination. It’s entertainingly challenging to look at Webb’s photographs in this book.

 León, Mexico 1987 ©Alex Webb

León, Mexico 1987 ©Alex Webb

Layers

This is probably the strongest characteristic of the images in this book if not tied to Alex Webb’s use of light and shadows. This is also one of the major styles, aside his eye for colors, that inspires me to improve and find my own style in photographing layers.

In this book, Webb has able to display his brilliance in using layers in his photographs. He’s able to include multiple subjects in one frame. And by using layers, Webb had also able to utilize it and fill the frame with his subjects.  Imagine a photo with layers of subjects filling the frame, all acting individually or as a group to complete the image, and to top it of, complimented by the striking harmony of colors.

This is a complex and difficult skill to master yet Alex Webb, a Magnum Photographer, has all that masterpiece compiled in this book.

 Havana 2000 ©Alex Webb

Havana 2000 ©Alex Webb

Conclusion

This is the major reason I bought this book. To learn how Alex Webb sees colors and how he masterfully makes use of light and shadows. How he fills the frame with layering his subjects is something I’ve been trying to develop myself for the past few months. I’m far from it but this book has been playing a huge part of my development. I love this book.

Here are more images by Alex Webb from the book:

 Port-au-Prince, Haiti 1987 (Memorial for victims of army violence ©Alex Webb

Port-au-Prince, Haiti 1987 (Memorial for victims of army violence ©Alex Webb

 Nuevo Laredo, Mexico 1996 ©Alex Webb

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico 1996 ©Alex Webb

 Palm Beach County, Florida 1988 ©Alex Webb

Palm Beach County, Florida 1988 ©Alex Webb

 Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua 1992 ©Alex Webb

Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua 1992 ©Alex Webb

 Istanbul, Turkey 2004 ©Alex Webb

Istanbul, Turkey 2004 ©Alex Webb

 Ciudad Madero, Mexico 1983 ©Alex Webb

Ciudad Madero, Mexico 1983 ©Alex Webb

 Gonaives, Haiti Election Day, November 1987 ©Alex Webb

Gonaives, Haiti Election Day, November 1987 ©Alex Webb

 Bombardopolis, Haiti 1986 ©Alex Webb

Bombardopolis, Haiti 1986 ©Alex Webb

 León, Mexico 1987 ©Alex Webb

León, Mexico 1987 ©Alex Webb

 Encarnación, Paraguay 1990 ©Alex Webb

Encarnación, Paraguay 1990 ©Alex Webb

 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic 1980 ©Alex Webb

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic 1980 ©Alex Webb

If you are looking for inspiration or you just want a feast for your eyes, I can guarantee you that this book, The Suffering of Light isn’t gonna let you down.

Here’s a link of the book you can purchase from Amazon