A photographic journey, exhibition + book, by one of the twentieth century’s great photographers through eight African countries on the cusp of independence post-WWII.
The exhibition presents a recently recovered photographic series taken by American documentary photographer Todd Webb in 1958. Commissioned by the United Nations to document emerging industries and technologies in Ghana, Kenya, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and Tanganyika and Zanzibar (both now Tanzania), these early color photographs went largely unused by the U.N.’s publications. Their neglect or suppression by the organization mandates a closer investigation and animates our interpretation of the images, as well as our attempts to understand Webb’s intentions in creating them.
Webb’s photographs present an outsider’s view of the social, political, and cultural dynamics on the continent at a critical period between colonialism and independence. Resisting stereotypical or exoticizing frameworks, Webb created images of countries on the cusp of change. At the same time, his photographs raise important questions concerning photographic agency and power, racial and national privilege, and the ways in which Euro-Americans conceived of modernization at a crucial period in Africa’s history.
VIEW THE ONLINE EXHIBITION
Todd Webb is largely known for his skillful photographic documentation of everyday life and architecture in cities, most notably New York and Paris, as well as his photographs of the American West. The new book, the exhibition catalog published by Thames & Hudson, showcases a different side of Webb’s work, taken from his assignment that brought him to eight African countries.
Equipped with three cameras and briefed to document industrial progress, he returned with approximately fifteen hundred color negatives, but less than twenty of them were published, in black and white, by the United Nations Department of Public Information. The archive was then lost for over fifty years and was only rediscovered by the Todd Webb Archive in 2017.
Todd Webb in Africa includes over 150 striking color photographs from Webb’s African United Nations assignment.
This book, and the accompanying touring exhibition, provides expert insight into Webb’s images with contributions by both African and American scholars. Included essays engage the photographs in their historical and artistic moment, and provide crucial insight into the role of photography in visualizing national independence and ingrained imperialism.
About the Author
Todd Webb (September 5, 1905 – April 15, 2000) was an American photographer notable for documenting everyday life and architecture in cities such as New York City, Paris as well as from the American west.
His photography has been compared with Harry Callahan, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, and the French photographer Eugène Atget. He traveled extensively during his long life and had important friendships with artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and Harry Callahan. He photographed famous people including Dorothea Lange. His life was like his photos in the sense of being seemingly simple, straightforward, but revealing complexity and depth upon a closer examination. Capturing history, his pictures often transcend the boundary between photography and artistic expression.
Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame
January 2, 2021 – June 13, 2021
Harrison Photography Gallery
(Minneapolis Institute of Art)