Critics’ Picks

Alex Webb, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, 1985, digital C-print, 25 x 34''.

Alex Webb, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, 1985, digital C-print, 25 x 34''.

New York

Alex Webb

aperture
548 West 28th Street 4TH FLOOR
September 8–October 26, 2016

Alex Webb has been working in Mexico for three decades now. His is the lonely traveler’s aria that’s been diffused into a symphony of saturnine colors—colors found in the small-town streets of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Tijuana, Cuernavaca—in a Mexico that’s not Mexico City, but also not rural, let alone pastoral.

The dramatic texture of these shots is omnivorous, ruthless. They are formally controlled but emotionally unmoored, extraordinarily dramatic but decidedly indecisive, tightly framed but pointing elsewhere. Webb has expressed his desire to capture how, in his words, “multiple states, multiple situations, and multiple moments can coexist.” He achieves this by presenting several unrelated human dramas in the same frame. Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, 1985, for example, shows four strangers against a sky-blue alley wall. A red blur of a young woman walks past us in the foreground. Two men—one in a cattleman hat, impassive, wearing a dirty shirt, the other so tired his eyes are closed—lean, like indifferent sentries, on either end of the frame. And amid this, totally ignored like uncollected garbage, is a homeless man lying asleep on the ground.

This is the bitter, Bruegelesque glory of Webb’s street photography. He registers the normalization of pitilessness that results when capitalism conquers an underdeveloped backwater overnight. Doing this, he also achieves something more. The four people in Tehuntapec may remain indifferent to one another, but seeing them, we grow aware of the strangers around us, of the ambient social noise that defines urban life.