Gemma Barnett

The picture that changed my life, by Gemma Barnett, Director of Print Sales Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, London: I first discovered Alex Webb’s photographs as my younger self while studying Photojournalism at the London College of Communication, or the London College of Printing, as it was then.

I had enjoyed being immersed in documentary photography and heralded both the masters of street photography as well as the modern mavericks, but Webb’s work gave me a fresh perspective on the genre.

Webb’s photographs are layered, textured and coloured like modernist paintings. They are typically complex in their composition, the frame often filled from edge to edge and using harsh natural daylight to create the deep, inky shadows. Yet, his work is far from aesthetic as he remains a journalist, questioning the world politically and socially.

On a personal level, Webb’s work taught me to put the camera down. I had spent a year trying to hone my skills as a photojournalist, hoping to make work that could ultimately advocate change. But while studying Webb’s monograph Under a Grudging Sun, which documented Haiti at a time of great unrest in the 1980s, I realised I would be better working for these master photographers than trying to become one myself. It was this single book that led me to apply for my position at Magnum Photos London in 2001.

It would be impossible to choose one standout image, but his most recent book, The Suffering of Light, gives a retrospective look at 30 years of his work.

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