Photographer Alex Webb recently spent a week in Cleveland
The city will host the Republican National Convention from July 18 to July 21
The American political universe will focus on Cleveland next week when Republicans from around the country gather for the Republican National Convention.
But this Midwestern city has an identity that extends far beyond politics. Photographer Alex Webb recently captured the feel of the place before the hordes of conservatives and delegates descend to formally nominate Donald Trump as the GOP’s choice for president.
Webb took more than 7,000 photographs during his week in the Rust Belt city.
Cleveland is the second-most populous city in the key swing state of Ohio and home to the NBA’s Cavaliers, NFL’s Browns and MLB’s Indians. It’s a diverse city, too: 53% of its population is African-American.
Webb said he sensed apprehension from the community with the upcoming convention but it was mostly drowned out by the noise from the Cavaliers being in the playoffs the week he was there. The city takes its basketball team very seriously.
“People would roll their eyes when the subject of the convention came up,” he said. “I think people in Cleveland don’t quite know what to expect.”
Webb photographed a mural at the Cudell Recreation Center, where Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot and killed by police after they confused his air gun for a real one. Rice’s death was one of several police killings in the past few years that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
“You have to absorb it,” Webb said. “You don’t really know what it’s going to be like until you walk the streets and feel it. This is what I love about this kind of photography, when you come to a place and you don’t really know what you’re going to find.”
One of his stops: Vel Scott’s greenhouse.
He was familiar with her efforts to educate her community on healthier eating. He’d met the Cleveland gardener – the city has embraced urban farms – some time ago when he shot some photographs of the work she was doing, teaching her community about growing produce and the importance of eating food of nutritional value.
Early in his career Webb didn’t always shoot in color. He preferred black and white until he realized he could really play with pigments and hues, especially with the tropical settings he was interested in exploring.
“The certain most singular obsession I had was an obsession with the tropics,” said Webb, who is known for his vibrant work in Latin America and the Caribbean. “I’ve become increasingly intrigued with photographing the United States. … It’s only now that I’m trying to photograph the United States in color.”
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Webb, who was born in San Francisco but raised on the East Coast, has been photographing for 42 years, longer if you count his years before becoming professional.
The 64-year-old photographer said he felt a strong connection with downtown Cleveland, where he spent most of his time in the city.
“I find Cleveland kind of intriguing because it has a remarkable backdrop in downtown architecture in the United States, which is a young country,” he said. “The city sort of has an older feel.”
Webb said he focused on downtown because he could feel its cultural presence in the city.
“It’s not devastating the way Detroit is, but it’s a city that’s gone through difficult times,” he said. “I’m kind of intrigued in looking at some of these places – like Cleveland reinventing itself. … I just try to follow my nose and see what kinds of things are going on whenever I’m in a place.”
His favorite photograph from the series is a dark shot of a car parked in a garage in a downtown alley.
“It’s nearing dusk in the photo. There are a number of them like that I like, just before dark or just after dawn, where you are looking in,” Webb said. “It has a noirish quality, like a detective film that is shot just at dusk. It was just a moment.”