“Documentary is thought to be art when it transcends its reference to the world , when the work can be regarded , first and foremost , as an act of self-expression on the part of the artist”
(Alan Sekula , in Liebling , 1978 , p.236)
Istanbul : City of a Hundred Names
Istanbul is quite unique , a place where East meets West . I visited Istanbul a few years ago and fell in love with the vibrancy of the city , the bustling crowds , sights , sounds and smells so different from home.
The immediate thing I noticed when looking at the images were the colours , the beauty and opulence ,” some use a restrained palette , others a more restrained one ” ( Steele-Perkins , p.g 544 , Magnum Magnum) . The unusual compositions are busy using both juxtaposition and surreal elements to convey a mood , shadowy figures walk across the frame , others are bathed in golden light.
Although Webb’s images initially reminded me of my visit his personal perspective captures the city in a very different and distinct way to what I remember of it . His observations of Istanbul have been criticised , comments left on the Magnum podcast suggest his subjectivity make this a biased view , how could he understand a place without having spent years there? I agree that it is impossible to know somewhere without inhabiting the place but that is what makes these so aesthetically pleasing : we see Istanbul through Webb’s eyes , are shown something rather special.
Webb describes his photography as ” an exploration -visually , physically , emotionally and psychologically” ( Webb , p.g 474 , Magnum Stories ) these images reflect that , and I think this is what makes them fit Sekula’s criteria of what he calls documentary art. The narrative does not reveal the fundamental nature of a city but reflects instead Webb’s individual experience of a fascinating multi-facteted society.
References / Bibliography
Steele-Perkins Chris (2009 In: Lardinois Brigitte , (ed) . Magnum Magnum . London Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Webb Alex . (2004) Webb In : Boot C, ed . Magnum Stories. London:Phaidon Press Ltd pp.474-475