Todd Webb

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Todd Webb
Todd Webb in Boat.jpg
Todd Webb
Born(1905-09-05)September 5, 1905
DiedApril 15, 2000(2000-04-15) (aged 94)
Years active1940–2000

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. [1] He traveled extensively during his long life and had important friendships with artists such as Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, [2] and Harry Callahan. [1]


Early life

Webb was born in Detroit, United States, in 1905 and grew up there and in a Quaker community in Ontario. [1] From 1924 to 1929 he worked as a bank teller and clerk at a brokerage firm in Detroit; in another account, he was a successful stockbroker during the 1920s but lost his earnings during the Crash before the Depression. [3] During the Depression beginning in 1929, he moved to California and worked as a prospector and earned a meager living. [1] During these years he also worked as a fire ranger for the United States Forestry Service. Webb reportedly wrote short stories which were unpublished. [3] After 1934, Webb returned to Detroit and worked for the automobile manufacturer Chrysler [1] in their export division. [3] In 1937, he visited a friend in Panama in search of gold, but had little success. But in Panama, he brought along a camera donated by his former employer, Chrysler. [1]


Early career

Webb returned to Detroit and studied at the Detroit Camera Club. He met photographer Harry Callahan. In 1940, he completed a ten‑day workshop with Ansel Adams as his teacher. [1] In 1941, he visited Rocky Mountain State Park with Harry Callahan, and realized during this trip that he was drawn more to the urban cityscape, and although he found Adams to be an inspiration, he would not make photographs like his teacher. During World War II, Webb was a photographer for the United States Navy and was deployed to the South Pacific theater of operations. [1]

New York City years

After World War II, in 1945, Webb moved to New York City and began his career as a professional photographer. [1] He made key friendships with Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe as well as Beaumont Newhall, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, and Minor White. [3] Webb began a remarkable project of walking the streets of New York City with his heavy camera and tripod and photographing people and buildings he encountered. [4] What set these photos apart was their "straightforward, descriptive clarity" even though they were often of familiar views. [4] One large 10-foot–long panorama photograph which was critically acclaimed [5] showed a section of Sixth Avenue from 43rd–44th streets which, in 1991, was seen as a "visual time capsule of the city" and was described as a "stunner." [6] Webb's photos reflected the photographer's sense of discovery and captured the times, such as photos of hand-painted banners over apartment house doors saying "Welcome Home, G.I.s". [4] In one photograph, Webb went to the top of the RCA Building and shot south using a backlit technique, which captured the Empire State Building at night. [7] The best photographs, according to New York Times art critic Charles Hagen, contained the "simple geometries of urban architecture" in a "simple elegance"; Hagen thought Webb's New York City photographs were his best. [4] In 1946, he had his first solo exhibition of his photographs at the Museum of the City of New York.

In 1947, Webb was hired by Fortune magazine [3] and he worked with professional photographers funded by the Standard Oil Company led by Roy Stryker and the group included notable photographers such as Sol Libsohn. [8] According to the New York Times , the team of professional photographers was "given amazingly free rein by its corporate sponsor" to produce a documentary about oil. [8] One of these photographs, Webb's Pittsburgh Panorama (ca. 1950) shows a grim industrial view towards Pittsburgh from a hill near Westinghouse Bridge that takes in a bare river valley across which snake highways and railways and a row of tall smokestacks in the distance. [9] [10] Curator Edward Steichen selected it for the 1955 Museum of Modern Art exhibition The Family of Man , seen by 9 million visitors on its world tour. [11] [12] [13] However, in his memoir, Webb records his disappointment with the way images were "over-enlarged to billboard size" losing "all the qualities that make photographs unique." [14]

Webb traveled to Paris, France, in 1949 and married fellow American Lucille Minqueau. [1] In Paris, Webb produced a "vivid record" of the city which earned him recognition. [1] Then, Webbs moved back to New York City to live in Greenwich Village in 1952.

1955-1956, walking across America

In 1955, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to photographically record pioneer trails of early settlers of the western United States. During that year he walked from New York City to San Francisco.

1957-58, United Nations and Africa

Webb was hired in 1957 by the United Nations to photograph its General Assembly. He won a contract to photograph Sub–Saharan Africa in 1958. Over the course of six months, he photographed extensively in Ghana, Sudan, Togo, Somalia, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. These rich color images were published in 2021 as a book to compliment the exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art titled Todd Webb in Africa, Outside the Frame.

O'Keeffe years

The Webbs moved to Santa Fe in New Mexico around 1961. [1] Webb's photos of his friend Georgia O'Keeffe suggested not only a "loner, severe figure and self-made person" but that there was an "intense connection" between Webb and O'Keeffe. [15] While O'Keeffe was known to have a "prickly personality", Webb's photographs portray her with a kind of "quietness and calm" suggesting a relaxed friendship, and revealing new contours of O'Keeffe's character. [16] Webb's landscape photographs as well as photos of the artist walking among the sagebrush bring O'Keeffe to life "even in pictures where she doesn't appear", according to Chicago Tribune art critic Abigail Foerstner. [17] His photos suggest an "ageless spirit" which was "weathered and indomitable" like desert rock formations. [18] These photos were done using matte finish paper and appear in a book entitled Georgia O'Keeffe: The Artist's Landscape. [17]

Later years

The Webbs lived in the Provence region of France, around 1970, and he continued to photograph regularly, and later lived, for a period, in Bath, England. [1] The Webbs finally settled in the state of Maine, living in the city of Portland, based on the suggestion of a friend. [1] In 1978, Webb won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and continued to live and work in Maine. Webb died in 2000 in Lewiston, Maine. [1]


Todd Webb's photographs have been displayed in 25 major museum collections including the MOMA in New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. [1] Webb's photographic archive is located in Portland, Maine, where reproduction rights and sales of his prints are managed.

In 2006, the Hallmark Greeting Cards Corporation acquired at least 161 of Webb's photographs, and in 2006 decided to give them away in a generous donation to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. [19]

In 2017, the Todd Webb Archive refurbished its website with biographical data, collection information, and a column regarding news events. In April 2017, an exhibition titled "A City Seen" opened at the Museum of the City of New York. Curated by Sean Corcoran, the exhibit was a comprehensive survey of Webb's work in New York during the 1940s. The book I See a City: Todd Webb's New York (Thames & Hudson, 2017) was published in conjunction with the exhibition.

Webb's estate is managed by Betsy Evans Hunt who serves as the Executive Director of the Todd Webb Archive.[ citation needed ]


Webb was awarded the following:[ citation needed ]


The following publications relate to Todd Webb:[ citation needed ]


Webb's work is in the following collections:[ citation needed ]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 staff writer (April 22, 2000). "Todd Webb, 94, Peripatetic Photographer". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010. Todd Webb, a photographer who documented the everyday life and architecture of New York, Paris and the American West, died last Saturday at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. He was 94 and lived in Auburn, Me.
  2. Grace Glueck (May 2, 1997). "Dynamo Who Left Her Mark as Curator". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010. and Todd Webb's intimate glimpse of the photographer Dorothea Lange, known for her Depression images of the 1930s.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "Todd Webb (1905–2000)". Luxury Bazaar. 2010. Archived from the original on December 31, 2010. Retrieved October 12, 2010. He had been a successful stockbroker in the Twenties, and then lost his earnings in The Crash that precursored the Great Depression.
  4. 1 2 3 4 CHARLES HAGEN (September 22, 1995). "Art in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010. In 1945, after being discharged from the Navy, Todd Webb moved to New York City and began a remarkable project. ...
  5. Bob Keyes (May 30, 2010). "Photographer's estate updates, improves website". Maine Sunday Telegram. Retrieved October 10, 2010. The estate of Todd Webb announced a recent refurbishment of its website, ...
  6. CHARLES HAGEN (December 27, 1991). "Art in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010. The stunner of the show, though, is a 10-foot-long panorama by Todd Webb from 1948 that depicts, in its entirety, Sixth Avenue between 43d and 44th Streets.
  7. WILLIAM MEYERS (December 27, 2007). "The Other City of Lights". The New York Sun. Retrieved October 10, 2010. The Empire State Building ... It is also seen backlit in Todd Webb's "South From the Top of the RCA Building" (1945)
  8. 1 2 SYLVIA NASAR (January 25, 2001). "Sol Libsohn, 86, Photographer Who Captured Ordinary Life". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010. Libsohn joined a team of photographers at Standard Oil Company ... The team, led by Roy Stryker, included, apart from Mr. Libsohn, Gordon Parks, Esther Bubley, Russell Lee, John Vachon and Todd Webb and was given amazingly free rein by its corporate sponsor.
  9. Webb, Todd. "Pittsburgh Panorama (Standard Oil)". The Visual Telling of Stories.
  10. Steven Wright Plattner; Esther Bubley; Roy Emerson Stryker (1983). Roy Stryker, U.S.A., 1943–1950 : the Standard Oil (New Jersey) photography project (1st ed.). University of Texas Press. ISBN   978-0-292-77028-7.
  11. Edward Steichen; Carl Sandburg; Dorothy Norman; Leo Lionni; Jerry Mason; Ezra Stoller (1955). The family of man: The photographic exhibition. Museum of Modern Art by Simon and Schuster in collaboration with the Maco Magazine Corporation.
  12. Gerd Hurm; Anke Reitz; Shamoon Zamir, eds. (2018), The family of man revisited : photography in a global age, London I.B.Tauris, ISBN   978-1-78672-297-3
  13. Eric J. Sandeen (1995), Picturing an exhibition : the family of man and 1950s America (1st ed.), University of New Mexico Press, ISBN   978-0-8263-1558-8
  14. Webb, Todd (1991). Looking back : memoirs and photographs (1st ed.). University of New Mexico Press. ISBN   978-0-8263-1294-5.
  15. MICHAEL KILIAN (August 1, 2002). "Santa Fe exhibit paints a different picture of O'Keeffe". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 10, 2010. But Santa Fe's Georgia O'Keeffe Museum ... close and longtime friend, photographer Todd Webb (1905–2000), ...
  16. WILLIAM ZIMMER (December 31, 2000). "ART; Exploring the Affinities Among Painting, Music and Dance". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010. O'Keeffe and Webb had known each other for a long time when he began to photograph her in the mid-1980s....
  17. 1 2 3 Abigail Foerstner (December 5, 1986). "Books For Photographers, Fans". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 10, 2010. Georgia O'Keeffe: The Artist's Landscape (Twelve Trees Press, $45): Todd Webb's dramatic landscapes and scenes at O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch ...
  18. Abigail Foerstner (September 7, 1990). "Six Artists Portray The Real And The Mythical American West". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 10, 2010. Webb photographed his friend O'Keeffe for years during the summers ...
  19. KATHRYN SHATTUCK (February 18, 2006). "For a Dear Museum: Love, Hallmark". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2010. Last month the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ... 161 by Todd Webb;