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. This new book showcases a different side of Webb’s work, taken from an assignment that brought him to eight African countries.
In 1958, Webb was invited by the United Nations to document Togoland (now Togo), Ghana, Kenya, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi), Somaliland (now Somalia), Sudan, Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now merged as Tanzania) over a five-month assignment. 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 an 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.
Fascinating… finally does justice to the depth of Webb's images… Todd Webb in Africa is a powerful contribution to a growing body of visual scholarship that underscores how a photograph always, always, exceeds its intention.
Aimée Bessire is an affiliated scholar who teaches African art history and cultural studies at Bates College.
Erin Hyde Nolan
Erin Hyde Nolan is a visiting assistant professor at Maine College of Art, where she teaches the history of photography, and visual culture, and Islamic art. She was the manager of the Todd Webb Archive from 2010 to 2015.