Todd Webb

USA / 1905 - 2000 /
Todd Webb (1905-2000) came to New York after being discharged from the US Navy in World War II. Webb had been a Navy photographer in the Pacific during the war. Before that he had led an adventurous life, filed with ups-and-downs. A stock broker wiped-out by the Wall Street crash in 1929, Webb prospected for gold in Panama, served as a forest ranger and took a crash course in photography with Ansel Adams.

Webb saved much of his wartime Navy pay and headed to New York in 1945. His plan was to photograph the daily life of New Yorkers and their neighborhood surroundings. This was New York before air conditioning, electric clothes dryers, television (except in some restaurants) - and the ruthless "development" schemes of Robert Moses.

Webb began with a series of photos of special relevance to himself - "welcome home" signs for New York men returning from military service in World War II. Implicit in these photos is the acknowledgment of the GIs who did not make it back. Webb recognized this in his daily journal, excerpts of which are included in the introductory essays of I See A City.

Webb succeed brilliantly in documenting work-a-day New York, but his motivating idea was not original. Credit Berenice Abbott for that. Abbott documented New York City for the Depression-era Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1939. Her photos, shown at the New York World's Fair in 1939 and the companion book, Changing New York, set American photography on a new path.

Webb took a momentous step in his art career before venturing forth with his 5x7 Deardorff large-format camera and tripod. En route to basic training in 1942, Webb stopped in New York and managed to meet Alfred Stieglitz, the elder statesman of American photography. Stieglitz could be quite disagreeable but he and Webb got along. In 1945, Webb was welcomed back to Stieglitz's gallery, An American Place, and until Stieglitz died in July 1946, consulted regularly with the...
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First Collected by

Suzan Hamer


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