‘The Suffering of Light’: The MOA’s latest photography exhibit

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Poverty, political uncertainty and stressful life events can distract and prevent artists from seeing the hidden story in front of them. For acclaimed photographer Alex Webb, this isn’t a problem.

Webb is a recognized pioneer of American color photography whose images are well known for their intense color and light. 

A woman looks at Webb’s work during the “First Friday” event at the Museum of Art. (Photo by Nathalie van Empel)

As part of its “First Fridays at the MOA” event, the BYU Museum of Art highlighted Webb’s fascinating thirty-year career in its latest photography exhibit, “Alex Webb — The Suffering of Light: Thirty Years of Photographs.” The exhibit showcases Webb’s talent behind the camera through forty-five large print photographs now on display at the museum. The Aperture Foundation in New York City organized the exhibition and it will be on display until May 4, 2013.

Carolyn Haynie, public relations specialist at the MOA, explained that the photographs in this particular exhibit focus on developing countries.

“The exhibit focuses on a lot of cultures that are on the periphery of Western civilization,” Haynie said. “You have Turkey and Mexican-border cultures, Haiti and other countries around the world.”

Regarding Webb’s artwork style, Haynie described the aspects she found the most intriguing.

I think the most beautiful aspect is his use of color and his ability to capture emotion — the emotion of capturing everyday life,” Haynie said. “Human emotions are universal. Things such as shopping down the street, death, being happy and being in love are universal and bonding.”

Regarding the human emotions Webb’s photographs capture, Haynie said that through them one can feel a bond. Visitors can relate to them because everybody is human.

Diana Turnbow, curator of photography for the museum, described in a MOA news story what she found unique about Webb’s work.

“I am struck by Webb’s ability to give himself to the moment of the photograph,” Turnbow said. “It’s the lyricism found in the color of the setting or the gesture of his subjects that deeply imprints upon the viewer and potentially creates a connection that can lead to further inquiry, empathy and a measure of understanding of a particular place or people.”

An example of Webb’s photography from Bombay. (Photo courtesy Alex Webb)

The exhibit has a complementary book, “Alex Webb: The Suffering of Light,” in which, along with his photographs, Webb describes his experience behind the camera.

“To me it all is photography,” Webb said in a press release. “You have to go out and explore the world with a camera.”

The exhibit originally opened on Dec. 14, but the MOA’s education department decided to feature the exhibit for its first “First Fridays at the MOA” event of the year. For those not aware of “First Fridays,” it is a monthly event series that integrates MOA art exhibitions with dance or live music to enhance visitors’ experience at the museum.

At this “First Friday,” visitors had the chance to wander around the museum and visit the “Suffering of Light” exhibit while listening to Caribbean-style music provided by Utah’s Drum Lab Steel Band. Visitors also enjoyed Caribbean-themed refreshments.

Jessica Leblow, a biology education major from Kansas, went to the exhibition on “First Fridays” and offered a commentary on the photography at the exhibit.

“The photography is great; it has an interesting social commentary,” Leblow said. “The photographs have a nice use of color. (Webb) is a good street photographer.”

For those interested in Webb and his artwork, he will be giving a lecture co-hosted by the MOA and David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies in March 2013.

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