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Alex Webb’s La Calle Gives Voice to Mexico’s Streets

When photographer Alex Webb first visited Mexico in 1975, he was immediately captivated by the intense light, color, and energy of its streets. Over the next few decades, he would return numerous times, drawn to the U.S.-Mexico border, and then into southern Mexico in the 1980s and ’90s. Casting his preconceptions aside, he allowed his camera to lead him.

“I work extremely intuitively,” Webb said in a recent interview at the Aperture Gallery, where his exhibition La Calle is currently on view. “I wander, I respond. I don’t work rationally at all. Am I aware of certain elements rationally at times? Sure. But I think that often when I am more aware of them, it usually means that the picture falls flat.”

The resulting images are multilayered and evocative. In each of his street photographs, Webb distills gesture, light, and cultural tensions into single, mesmerizing frames that convey mystery, irony, and humor. Now, La Calle, a photobook and corresponding exhibition, bring together over thirty years of Webb’s images. The work commemorates the Mexican street as a sociopolitical bellwether—albeit one that has undergone significant transformation since Webb’s first trips to the country.

Throughout the photobook, commissioned texts by noted Mexican and Mexican-American authors Guillermo Arriaga, Álvaro Enrigue, Valeria Luiselli, Guadalupe Nettel, and Mónica de la Torre lend further insight into the roles the streets have played for generations, reflecting Mexico’s past, projecting into its future, and providing a stage for the theatre of everyday life.

“I think that their words, on some level, give voice to the streets of Mexico, specifically Mexican voices, which is distinctly different, and hence complimentary to what my photographs do,” Webb said. “I love the fact that Valeria Luiselli’s piece refers to the hideousness of a street, but how she loves the street because it’s hideous. I thought that was kind of wonderful.”


Alex Webb, Ajijic, Jalisco, 1983; from Alex Webb: La Calle (Aperture/Televisa Foundation, 2016) © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos

Alex Webb: La Calle, Photographs from Mexico is available here. The corresponding exhibition will be on view at Aperture Gallery through October 26, 2016.

Alex Webb: La Calle

Alex Webb: La Calle

La Calle brings together more than thirty years of photography from the streets of Mexico by Alex Webb, spanning 1975 to 2007. Whether in black and white or color, Webb’s richly layered and complex compositions touch on multiple genres. As Geoff Dyer writes, “Wherever he goes, Webb always ends up in a Bermuda-shaped triangle where the distinctions between photojournalism, documentary, and art blur and disappear.” Webb’s ability to distill gesture, light, and cultural tensions into single, beguiling frames results in evocative images that convey a sense of mystery, irony, and humor. Following an initial trip in the mid-1970s, Webb returned frequently to Mexico, working intensely on the U.S.–Mexico border and into southern Mexico throughout the 1980s and ’90s, inspired by what poet Octavio Paz calls “Mexicanism—delight in decorations, carelessness and pomp, negligence, passion, and reserve.” La Calle presents a commemoration of the Mexican street as a sociopolitical bellwether—albeit one that has undergone significant transformation since Webb’s first trips to the country. Newly commissioned pieces from noted Mexican and Mexican American authors lend further insight into the roles the streets have played for generations: part arterial network, part historical palimpsest, and part absurdist theater of the everyday.

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