Portland Museum of Art: Todd Webb in Africa: Out of Frame

Newly Found Photographic Series Documents American Photographer’s Fascinating Photographic Journey Todd Webb across nine African countries on the eve of independence. With Todd Webb in Africa : Outside The Framean exhibition and a book are an opportunity to discover these little-known works by Webb.

In 1958, photographer Todd Webb, best known for his remarkable images of everyday life and architecture in New York and Paris, as well as photographs of the American West, was commissioned by the Office of the information from the United Nations to document the progress of industry and technology in what were then nine different African nations, either recently independent or on the verge of gaining independence in the aftermath of World War II.

Over the course of four months, Webb traveled through Togo, Ghana, Sudan, Somalia, Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia (now Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now merged into Tanzania) and Kenya. Equipped with three cameras, it amassed around 2,000 images during this period; yet only 22 of them were published by the UN, in black and white, in a 7-page brochure. The rest of the negatives were dispersed in the 1970s and were not reunited with the Todd Webb Archive until 2017.

Webb’s striking color photographs present an outsider’s perspective on the continent’s social, political and cultural dynamics at a critical time between colonialism and independence. Resisting stereotypical or exotic settings, Webb created images of countries on the brink of change, documenting not only industrial change, but also people, homes, landscapes and daily activities, bringing the past to life.

At the same time, the neglect or suppression of his photographs until recently raises important questions about photographic agency and power, racial and national privilege, and how Euro-Americans conceived of modernization to a crucial period in the history of Africa.

The accompanying book Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame (Thames & Hudson) features over 150 photographs from Webb’s African journey. The included essays by co-authors Aimée Bessire and Erin Hyde Nolan engage the photographs in their historical and artistic moment and provide crucial insight into photography’s role in visualizing national independence and entrenched imperialism.

Exhibition details:
Todd Webb In Africa : Outside The Frame
From March 24 to June 18, 2023
The Portland Museum of Art
7 Congress Square
Portland, Maine 04101

Book details:
Todd Webb In Africa : Outside The Frame
Thames & Hudson
Hardcover / ISBN: 9780500545393
256 pages | 203 illustrations
Prix : 50 USD

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