September 5, 1905|
Detroit, Michigan, United States
|Died||April 15, 2000(aged 94)|
|Home town||Detroit, Michigan, United States|
Todd Webb (1905–2000) was an American photographer notable for documenting everyday life and architecture in cities such as New York, 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.
Webb was born in Detroit in 1905 and grew up there and in a Quaker community in Ontario. From 1924–1929 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. During the Depression beginning in 1929, he moved to California and worked as a prospector and earned a meager living. During these years he also worked as a fire ranger for the United States Forestry Service. Webb reportedly wrote short stories which were unpublished. After 1934, Webb returned to Detroit and worked for the automobile manufacturer Chrysler in their export division. 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.
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. 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.
New York City years
After World War II, in 1945, Webb moved to New York City and began his career as a professional photographer. He made key friendships with Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe as well as Beaumont Newhall, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, and Minor White. 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. What set these photos apart was their "straightforward, descriptive clarity" even though they were often of familiar views. One large 10–foot–long panorama photograph which was critically acclaimed 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." 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". 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. 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. 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 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. 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.
Webb traveled to Paris in 1949 and married fellow American Lucille Minqueau. In Paris, Webb produced a "vivid record" of the city which earned him recognition. Then, Webbs moved back to New York City to live in Greenwich Village in 1952. In 1955, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to photographically record pioneer trails of early settlers of the western United States. He was hired in 1957 by the United Nations to photograph its General Assembly. He won a contract to photograph Sub–Saharan Africa in 1958.
The Webbs moved to Santa Fe in New Mexico around 1961. 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. 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. 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. His photos suggest an "ageless spirit" which was "weathered and indomitable" like desert rock formations. These photos were done using matte finish paper and appear in a book entitled Georgia O'Keeffe: The Artist's Landscape.
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. The Webbs finally settled in the state of Maine, living in the city of Portland, based on the suggestion of a friend. 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 Auburn, Maine.
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. A portion of his photographic archive––1,400 of his photographs––are at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
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.
In 2010, the estate of Todd Webb refurbished its website with biographical data, collection information, and a column regarding news events. Two touring exhibitions feature his photographs, one featuring his New York City photos, and another featuring his O'Keeffe photos. His photos and archive are managed by Betsy Evans Hunt and his Estate, Todd Webb Photographs, formerly Evans Gallery.
- Gold Strikes and Ghost Towns, Doubleday Press, 1961
- The Gold Rush Trails and The Road To Oregon, Doubleday Press, 1963
- Nineteenth Century Texas Homes, University of Texas Press, 1966
- Todd Webb/Photographs, The Amon Carter Museum
- Georgia O'Keeffe, The Artist's Landscape, Twelve Trees Press, 1984
- Todd Webb: Photographs of New York and Paris, Hallmark Cards, 1996
- Looking Back; Memoirs and Photographs, University of New Mexico, 1991
- staff writer (April 22, 2000). "Todd Webb, 94, Peripatetic Photographer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "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."
- Grace Glueck (May 2, 1997). "Dynamo Who Left Her Mark as Curator". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "and Todd Webb's intimate glimpse of the photographer Dorothea Lange, known for her Depression images of the 1930's."
- "Todd Webb (1905–2000)". Luxury Bazaar. 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-12. "He had been a successful stockbroker in the Twenties, and then lost his earnings in The Crash that precursored the Great Depression."
- CHARLES HAGEN (September 22, 1995). "Art in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "In 1945, after being discharged from the Navy, Todd Webb moved to New York City and began a remarkable project. ..."
- Bob Keyes (May 30, 2010). "Photographer's estate updates, improves website". Maine Sunday Telegram. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "The estate of Todd Webb announced a recent refurbishment of its website, toddwebbphotographs.com. ..."
- CHARLES HAGEN (December 27, 1991). "Art in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "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."
- WILLIAM MEYERS (December 27, 2007). "The Other City of Lights". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "The Empire State Building ... It is also seen backlit in Todd Webb's "South From the Top of the RCA Building" (1945)"
- SYLVIA NASAR (January 25, 2001). "Sol Libsohn, 86, Photographer Who Captured Ordinary Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "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."
- MICHAEL KILIAN (August 1, 2002). "Santa Fe exhibit paints a different picture of O'Keeffe". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "But Santa Fe's Georgia O'Keeffe Museum ... close and longtime friend, photographer Todd Webb (1905–2000), ..."
- WILLIAM ZIMMER (December 31, 2000). "ART; Exploring the Affinities Among Painting, Music and Dance". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "O'Keeffe and Webb had known each other for a long time when he began to photograph her in the mid-1980's...."
- Abigail Foerstner (December 5, 1986). "Books For Photographers, Fans". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "Georgia O'Keeffe: The Artist's Landscape (Twelve Trees Press, $45): Todd Webb's dramatic landscapes and scenes at O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch ..."
- Abigail Foerstner (September 7, 1990). "Six Artists Portray The Real And The Mythical American West". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "Webb photographed his friend O'Keeffe for years during the summers ..."
- KATHRYN SHATTUCK (February 18, 2006). "For a Dear Museum: Love, Hallmark". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "Last month the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ... 161 by Todd Webb;"