Noah Webb is a commercial and fine art photographer based in Los Angeles. His work spans multiple genres, including portrait, architectural, travel, product and conceptual photography. We had a chance to sit down with Noah and learn more about his career and stories from his photographic journey.
We absolutely love your ‘Nomadic Reflector’ series. How did the concept come about and what was it like shooting the series?
It actually came from a dream. The original image I had was this guy that is made out of mirrors. Almost looked like a diamond. Somewhat a slippage between an alien and an angel and it was on this desert landscape. So, that was one of the first ones that I tried. I actually drew it out then tried to solve how I would make this person come to life. So, then i found a suit that could be a fabric (stretchable). I then found tiny mirrors like ¾’’ squares and glued over 2,500 mirrors onto the suit. So, the suit in the end weighed 28 pounds. So, it was super heavy. It was very much indicative of my work where I like to have precision, but still have the hand involved and not have it so photo-shopped. All of what you’re seeing, there’s minimal Photoshop. It was all from a dream, the original one.
I kind of liked the idea that it was a suit of armor, this person was showing the landscape, but not showing the landscape. Was he trying to blend in? I kind of liked this idea of trying to travel around and find a home. First, I tried the desert. Then, I thought about local areas, so I went out to the Salton Sea, and then Utah (Zion) and made it kind of an adventure to find a landscape that was kind of surreal. It’s either my husband or an assistant who is wearing the suit. Normally, they have to get down to their underwear and put in on. The Zion one, it was literally snowing and it took us a total of 10 hrs hiking that day just to get to the location of the tunnel and do the shot. The shot lasted maybe 20 minutes. And then we hiked out. So it’s kind of this adventure just to make the shot work. I do a lot of research just to find the locations.
I just did some shots in Iceland when we went to Iceland for a week. We traveled around in an RV. Its evolving as well. I'm building another suit that is kind of the anti-what you already saw. It’s going to be black mirror. So, I’m not sure where that section is going, but i want to have it so it doesn’t just morph into one.
What type of images are the most fulfilling for you to create?
That’s a hard question to answer. If I pull back into kind of a larger perspective I would say that I like to make images and the content varies. I can get super excited about something that’s done in the studio. I can get excited for something about travel or like the nomadic reflector series, I can get excited about that. It’s hard. I like to just create, so I don’t know. Other than producing something that’s soulless, I like to create images.
In terms of the artwork that I work on, I love making, I love travel. I love making books like this that kind of showcase my perspective on new places. Whenever I get to travel its definitely inspiring. Travel wakes my eyes up and makes the art of looking physical again. The passport photo books that I make are the physical document of how much I love to travel.
Can you tell us a bit about your photography journey from the time you first picked up a camera to now shooting commercially as a profession?
I have this on my website, and I still think this is true when I think back to a drive. But, if I go back even further to when I was a kid, I remember that there were a few instances that are markers for why I became a photographer. One being, my parents had a rust colored 1973 station wagon. I’m the youngest of three kids, so I was always put in the back. If you think of the frame of the back of a station wagon window, it’s kind of the 35mm frame. So, I was always looking at the landscape from this stations wagon frame, a cropped image.
I was also in 1st grade almost held back because the teachers were like he’s not learning.’ The doctors figured out that I couldn’t hear. Up until first grade reading lips in order to communicate, so that made me very visual at a young age and learn to communicate through imagery.
Skip forward to college. I was playing water polo in college thinking that was going to be a big drive and it gave me a lot of satisfaction. I realized that’s not really what I want to do. Had a little freak out, moved back home and then took a class in photo. It was that first photo class, developing photos in the darkroom, seeing the image develop in front of my eyes. I was like ‘this is magic. I want this.” I knew from that first semester that this was what I was going to do. It was kind of an epiphany, that magic moment.
Then, I continued thinking that I would just make art and be some sort of art star. So, I went on to graduate school at Cal Arts, graduated from there, and had no idea, coming out of that bubble, how to make money. I started teaching on the side, and saw some friends start shooting for various magazines on the side, like Flaunt and Surface. So, I actually put in some random art photos to this competition with surface magazine, called the “Avant-Guardian” back in 2001 and they picked me and gave me a fashion spread. I was like “oh, this is fun.” So, then that realization that this could be a job happened. I took the steps, and it has taken years, but I feel really lucky to have this be a profession.
We noticed that you’re an avid cyclist. How do you think your passion for cycling has affected your photography, if at all?
I always like to joke about this because I’m a gemini. I feel like there’s this dual side to me in all parts. So, there’s an athlete in me, always trying to push my body and see where I can go. Then, there’s the creative side of me, always trying to communicate through imagery. I, for a long time, was trying to marry the two. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with my project “Riding in California.” But, I rode my bike from Los angeles throughout california up to where I was born in Oregon, camping along the way and shooting. So, it was through that project that I was trying to see how I could use photography to kind of document my history and the state that I grew up in. I’ve always tried to have both of them help each other. I think that cycling is really cool because it’s faster than running, so you can get farther, but its slower than the car. So, you can get more connected to landscapes while you’re looking at it. So, it’s definitely inspired my looking at landscapes.
If you could take portraits of any three people, dead or alive, who would it be?
1. The first thing that came into my mind was Annie Leibovitz. Just because of how many people she’s photographed. I’d like to see If i could somehow capture her in a way that would be indicative of her as a person and as an images maker, someone substantial.
2. Probably Andy Warhol because he was so interesting. Trying to get him to maybe give something different from how he’s been perceived. He was simple and complex at the same time.
3. President Obama. I would be interested in meeting him and seeing if I could capture something that would showcase him. I think that he would be an interesting guy to meet.
Any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
This coming Friday, West Elm is sending me to Portugal for a week and then The Philippines for a week. I’ve been lucky enough to work with them. They’ve sent me to India, Nepal, Vietnam, Peru, it’s been amazing. I’m shooting how their vendors are benefiting from their responsible retail campaign. So, you’re seeing how their workers live, and how they’re getting medical benefits or how they’re getting a fair wage. In that instance I feel like I’m connected to a larger people globally. So, I love that. It’s an exciting job to do.
In terms of fine art, I have laid out plans to kind of take the idea of Nomadic Reflector, but I’m making sculptures in landscape and photographing them. So, looking at the use of mirrors in landscape but as sculptural elements. Kind of like if the Nomadic Reflector left physical markers in the locations he visits, that’s the visual I am aiming for. So, that’s all I can really say about that right now.