A Portrait of Chicago: Street Photographs by Magnum Photographer Alex Webb

Here’s a photo essay that documents Magnum photographer Alex Webb‘s exploration of the streets of Chicago. In an interview with Leica, Webb states,

[…] I am not trying to convey messages. I take photographs to affirm reality, not explain reality and that reality often has a high level of ambiguity to it, which is subject to interpretation. So what one viewer discovers in a given image may be very different from what another viewer discovers. This particular photograph seems to suggest to you something about corporate culture, but another viewer might simply be amused by the similarity of be-suited figures and another viewer might find something else. I believe in photographs that have a level of ambiguity, images that work on suggestion, that ask questions rather than provide answers.

(via The Leica Camera Blog)

  • Dan Howard

    I have to say I don’t find any of his photographs shown in the video to be of a high enough quality. They are neither art, nor photography. They’re just random pictures with no sense of composition, attention to light or attention to colour.

    I’m sorry to say this is nothing special.

  • Anthony

    This is terrible

  • Voomnomore

    I think this is a great portrait of a great city I call home.  The quiet narration contrasting to the lively music and sound effects drew me in to enjoy the artfully presented  street photographs, which by definition are documentary.

  • Fvgaddis

    I agree with Dan Howard.  There were only a couple of shots  that might have been worth working with… but they would take work to become something.

  • tron

    Not to be a jerk but these photos in the video left a lot to be desired

  • Felicia V. Gaddis

    The above statement is my comment on the Chicago photo shoot. 

  • Joseph Mietus

    Just another person chiming in to say I felt the same – and man did that leave me disappointed. As someone who spends the majority of the day in the Loop with camera in hand, I was stoked to see what a Magnum photographer could do on a subject I’ve shot extensively. While there were definitely a few of these that I really dug, far too many looked like shots I take daily and pay no mind to. 

    Not to self-promote, but I really feel like a handful of these are more interesting and “affirm reality” as much as Webb’s photographs.

  • David

    Nice shots, Joseph.  I thought I would be seeing more photographs like this when I clicked the Play button above.  Love the shot of the child with the long shadow of her hand.

  • Jordan Wiens

    you guys disgust me, did you even look at the photos? not the sharpness, contrast, ‘bokeh’ or lighting technique. he is capturing the subtleties, ironies, cultures, politics, history, the now, all at once. He is looking for a story, a collection, not what aperture will give the best sharpness and what lady will look prettiest in the shot while he is shooting. (street) photography, or art in general, is not something to be looked at and to ‘get’ right away, you really need to know a bit about what he is talking about and try to understand what meaning or substance these photographs have. look at the photos for longer than 10 seconds which seems to be the attention span of most people these days. i can agree that it should have been edited down to more of a select few, but really, you all seem like the type to post awards and ‘nice shot’ on photos, where is the critique in that? enough with the meaningless pretty photos (which is why avedon’s marilyn monroe is so respected), lets see some meaning to your photographs! long rant is long, but I am just sick and tired of everyone’s superficial and shallow views of the world these days..

  • Joseph Mietus

    I don’t get the impression anyone here was judging these photos on studio photography aesthetics, but rather were disappointed by a collection of street photographs from an agency that’s regarded as the one that does it best. I know I was excited to see a Magnum photographer’s take on the streets I walk (and shoot) every day. There are a handful in this collection that really are spectacular – up to the Magnum quality that I have come to know. Yet the vast majority seemed, pardon the pun, a bit pedestrian. I’m not sure what story was told in this collection other than “sharp light comes through the EL tracks”. I don’t want to go as far as to say this collection lacks the meaning you ask for, but as someone who has seen a great deal of Chicago street photography and is a devout Magnum fan, this collection was a let down. 

  • Joseph Mietus

    And not to rub it in, but when you give your art appreciation 101 and say “…try to understand what meaning or substance these photographs have” you might want to read that part where Webb explicitly says “I am not trying to convey messages”.

  • Jordan Wiens

    i am really glad that someone responded back with some criticism, that is what i want. i don’t believe what i say is always 100% fact but i find most people seem to go for the safe route when it comes to their opinions, and i love to speak my mind, false or true (i am trying to learn). when i said meaning or substance, i meant more as in what these photos mean to chicago, as a documentation, although some of them could be thought to have a greater meaning (which I am sure is why the ‘not trying to convey messages’ would be said). i am trying to not pick on specific people, but just from what i am seeing these days, it is hard to take people seriously with their unthought-out 5 word comments. please watch ‘presspauseplay’ on vimeo to get a better understanding of what i am trying to talk about (still haha, not saying this is the end all be all), it is a very good watch and changed some of my opinions about why i do what i do. going on another tangent again, but these people i speak of seem to be from the breeding of a materialistic, consumeristic world, and it really bums me out, not enough space to actually say what i want to say in this little internet box, but there i go again

  • Brian Van Wyk Photo

     You are absolutely nuts, Dan. His composition and attention to light is impeccable in most of his pictures. Freeze 85% of them in this video and you’ll find that he subjects are lit by bars of light and framed by shadows. It’s rather incredible how well placed his subjects are. Most of his shots come down to foresight, anticipation, and patience.

    Now… With that being said, on a whole I don’t find all of his pictures to be marvelous, but a good sum of them are remarkable.

  • Guest

    I know this is “street photography”, but come on. give a 3-year-old a point-and-shoot and you get the same images–not that they’re necessarily horrible, but nothing of merit to stand out on their own.

    “subtleties, ironies, cultures, politics, history”–nope, that’s just life.

  • 8fps

    That’s what I thought too, Dan. Surprisingly.

  • Lateralparf

    Amazing photos! 

  • Photoxity

    I agree with Jordan.  Grow up children, it’s not just the focus or the light….it’s the story of life on the streets of Chicago, which is sometime out of fucus and the light doesn’t always shine in just the right places.  Since when has life always been in focus and light shinning all around us ???  I enjoyed this very much.

  • Photoxity

    This collection shows life in Chicago is not always in focus and that light does not alway shine where you think it should.  There are shadows sometimes where you wish there were streams of light.  Everyone sees the world around them differently….some in focus and some out of focus.  It’s called “reality,” not something staged.

  • TRphotodesign

    I can’t belive that these photos are made by one of the magnum photogs…
    I was so disapointed not more than 30 seconds after the clip started. I thought.. it’s going to get better… but instead it went even worse! :( no composition. no action. no emotions! More than hundred photos… not more than 10 worth seeing.
    Some of them looked like a completely random blind shots. 

  • Chris S.

    Your photo’s are far more interesting than his.

  • Slash_Cynic

    Are you kidding me? How are these shot by a magnum photographer? Alex Webb must have some good contacts over at Magnum to get in there.

  • You Guys Are Insane

    I have to remind myself to never go to this PetaPixel site ever again.  The commenters are a bunch of photo retards. But I guess it is common that genius goes unnoticed by fools. 

  • Bored to Death

    They are the photos of any Joe Blow with a camera who just walks around and takes pictures of crap.

  • Slash_Cynic

    They don’t have to belong to an exclusive white men photography club that’s for sure.

  • Mantis

    The commenters at this site are usually much more interested in new gadgets & toys and not the actual art of photography.

    These people are into cameras, not photography.

  • Grngiant

    Completely agree ….

  • Printlab

    I have to disagree as a Chicagoan. I found almost every image to be simplistic, not very thought out, just random images taken around State St and a Mexican neighborhood. I know the video is not the final product but the choice of songs had a lot to be desired.

  • Printlab

    Absolutely agree. 

  • Guest

    I think I have to agree with Dan for the most part. However, I do believe that many of his photos certainly do have the potential to be quite remarkable pieces of art.