Photobooks of 2023: Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

 Passing Time by Sage Sohier, Nazraeli Press

Framed by Lee Friedlander, Fraenkel Gallery

I always look forward to the next Lee Friedlander book. There’s often something new, something surprising, to discover. Framed is a particularly intriguing book, for it not only reflects Friedlander’s singular vision, but also that of the director Joel Coen, who chose the images. Whereas many of Friedlander’s books have been structured according to subject, often with slightly dead-pan titles, such as Sticks and Stones, or Real Estate, this book follows certain visual motifs: twinning, splitting, apertures, reflections—all iterations of, as the title suggests, framing—of which Friedlander is a maestro. Not surprisingly, it’s a visual delight.—Alex Webb


Dark Waters by Kristine Potter, Aperture

The Southern Gothic tradition of the murder ballad has long acted as cautionary tales for adventurous and rebellious women. Perhaps that’s why Kristine Potter’s Dark Waters—her creative interrogation and reimagining of this tradition—resonates so deeply with many of us in this post-Roe v. Wade world. Her haunting black and white photographs of riverbanks and bodies of water suggest those isolated natural spots where violence has taken the lives of too many—both those sung about and those unsung. Yet in Potter’s staged portraits of women in period dress—some given the names of the murdered heroines of the ballads—another ending is hinted at: What if the women survived? “Don’t you be afraid to fall,” the mother advises her two daughters in Rebecca Bengal’s lyrical short story, Blood Harmony, which ends Dark Waters on an ambiguous, yet hopeful note: “The water will always lift you up.”—Rebecca Norris Webb


In This Brief Life by Eugene Richards, Many Voices Press

There is something uniquely intimate, empathetic, and intense about Eugene Richards’s photographs. Both emotionally powerful and deeply complex, his photographs provide no easy answers—they just reflect the richness and variety of life. So, it is a gift to be able to see a whole host of unfamiliar photographs in his new book, In This Brief Life. Richards started searching through his archives for unpublished and lesser-known images and—at the encouragement of his son Sam—began posting them on social media, as well as writing brief texts about them. Startled by the tremendous positive response, he has brought the photographs together in a book that explores the vast range of his work— from sub-Saharan Africa to the plains of North Dakota, from the hollows of Appalachia to his roots in Dorchester, Massachusetts. What a pleasure to follow his journey—in both photographs and words.—Alex Webb


The North Fork by Trent Davis Bailey, Trespasser

Colorado photographer Trent Davis Bailey returned over seven years to photograph what locals call the “North Fork,” a remote river valley in his state’s Western Slope, which is home to small organic farms. Looking closely at these color landscapes, portraits, and still lifes—many interrupted or somewhat obscured by a scrim, shadow, or reflection—one realizes that Bailey is photographing more than a place on a map—the North Fork also inhabits his imagination. His photographic exploration led him not only to the woman who would ultimately become his wife and mother of their two children, but also to find his place in the photographic world through his unique way of seeing.—Rebecca Norris Webb

Passing Time by Sage Sohier, Nazraeli Press

During the pandemic, many photographers, stuck in isolation, looked back at their previous work. Such is the case with Sage Sohier, who returned to photographs that she made in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to put together her new book, Passing Time. Her photographs have a gently bemused quality—in the best sense —for they are deeply empathetic, embracing of the human condition. It is a body of work that clearly reflects its time, a time before air conditioning was commonplace—when people hung out on stoops and in their back yards. But there’s also an inviting openness to the subjects and lack of suspicion. That may well be due to Sohier’s sensibility, but it may also reflect a less polarized time.—Alex Webb

Small Myths by Mikiko Hara, Chose Commune

“My work is probably like a murmuring in someone’s ear,” says Mikiko Hara. Indeed, it’s the quietude of these intuitive, spontaneous photographs (she doesn’t look through the viewfinder) that draws one closer, as if overhearing a secret. Images and spare texts sing together in a kind of point/counterpoint, thanks to the lyrical sequencing of Cécile Poimboeuf-Koizumi of Chose Commune. We witness the blossoming of Hara’s three children amid glimpses of vibrant color (a yellow fish, a strawberry-topped cake, pink tulips in a sink), domestic scenes interrupted by her fable-like text about a neighborhood cherry tree, which no longer blooms after her husband’s untimely death. As much is suggested by these images as by what lies between the lines. I keep returning to the book’s cover image of a body caught in the act of exiting. Behind the child lies a path, which ends abruptly at two trees, with a stone wall just beyond. Yet, my gaze lingers on the child’s floating hand—forefingers touching thumb, creating the shape of an eye—a mysterious gesture that invites our imaginations to recall our own small myths, indelibly stained by loss and love.—Rebecca Norris Webb

Coming and Going by Jim Goldberg, MACK

Jim Goldberg’s Coming and Going is a kind of a cinematic visual autobiography encompassing his life from his father’s cancer diagnosis, through his marriage and divorce, to the present. It is perhaps Goldberg’s most ambitious book, as he combines hundreds of photographs—from family snapshots to images from his projects to ephemera—to take the viewer through the ups and downs of his life and projects. And somehow, the brilliant layering and juxtaposition combined with occasional writings mean that potential sentimentality gets drowned by the torrent of images. Through it all, Goldberg manages to shape the weight and the chaos and the meanderings of one photographer’s life and loves into one remarkable tome—a creative feat befitting the virtuoso bookmaker that he is.—Alex Webb


Strange Hours by Rebecca Bengal, Aperture

How does the female gaze inform not only the making of art, but also the close reading of it? Thankfully Aperture invites us to ponder this question with the addition of its second woman writer, Rebecca Bengal, to its Ideas series. As a woman, it’s heartening to see that half of these essays and interviews focus on women photographers, and Bengal, who is also a fiction writer, creates rich, multi-layered portraits of Diana Markosian, Nan Goldin, Ming Smith, Nancy Rexroth, Judith Joy Roth, among others. Throughout the book, however, I find it’s her beautifully expressed insights that keep me returning to certain passages, in particular those about the relationship between photographs and words. Years ago an intern at the now defunct magazine, DoubleTake, Bengal sings the praises of the gaps between the two arts “where words and images can speak to one another. They are the openings each artist should strive for.”—Rebecca Norris Webb


Mystery Street by Vasantha Yogananthan, Chose Commune

Mystery Street, Vasantha Yogananthan’s book of photographs of children in New Orleans, captures a special sense of childhood. Often taken at a child’s height, the photographs range from casual portraits to images of inanimate objects, but in all of them we feel the gaze of the child: the glance up at a bit of a fence, looking through a plant, staring down at the strangeness of an orange reflection in a puddle of water. We experience the mystery of the newness of the world as if through a child’s eyes. The book gets at a sense of that almost magical time of innocence and discovery before the uncertainties of adolescence lead to the burdens of adulthood. It's hardly surprising to learn that Yogananthan is now a new father.—Alex Webb

Together and apart, Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb have authored more than 20 books, including Alex’s new Aperture book, Dislocations, and Rebecca’s upcoming book, A Difficulty Is a Light, from Chose Commune (Fall 2024).

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Dark Waters by Kristine Potter, Aperture