Absence and Memory in Photographs of Rochester, New York
Kodak, once the largest producer of photographic film, declared bankruptcy in 2012, largely due to the rise of digital photography. That same year, the Webbs traveled to Rochester to see how it was faring amid the socio-economic change. Both photographers brought decades of experience to the project. A member of Magnum since 1976, Alex Webb is known for the keen observations of his street photography, capturing views of people and scenes that are at turns surprising, humorous, and enigmatic. Rebecca Norris Webb, who writes poetry in addition to taking pictures, brings a poetic sensibility to her vision. She often homes in on details of a larger scene, and turns her lens on seemingly unremarkable everyday scenarios, which she imbues with meaning and emotion.
Many of Rebecca Norris Webb’s photographs contain oblique references to the Eastman Kodak company. For example, in Extinct Passenger Pigeon Diorama, Rochester Museum and Science Center (2013), she focuses on a single stuffed model of a passenger pigeon, which appears in the upper-right-hand corner of her photograph. There is parity not only between the pigeon and the company, now both extinct, but also between the forms of communication they made possible, now both outmoded.
If his wife tells the story of Rochester in glimpses and details, Alex Webb tells it through partial narratives. He captures the city’s forlorn-looking public spaces and the people who populate them. In St. Patrick’s Day, East End (2013), he captures four young girls in bright red sweatshirts standing outside on a patch of lawn. If they are waiting to march in a parade, it seems it hasn’t yet arrived—or maybe, like the company that once fueled their city, it has already passed by.
“Memory City” is on view at Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, Sep. 10–Nov. 14, 2015.