This exhibition presents a recently recovered photographic series taken by American documentary photographer Todd Webb in 1958. Commissioned by the United Nations to document emerging industries and technologies in Ghana, Kenya, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and Tanganyika and Zanzibar (both now Tanzania), these early color photographs went largely unused by the U.N.’s publications. Their neglect or suppression by the organization mandates a closer investigation, and animates our interpretation of the images, as well as our attempts to understand Webb’s intentions in creating them.
Webb’s photographs present an outsider’s view onto the social, political, and cultural dynamics on the continent at a critical period between colonialism and independence. Resisting stereotypical or exoticizing frameworks, Webb created images of countries on the cusp of change. At the same time, his photographs raise important questions concerning photographic agency and power, racial and national privilege, and the ways in which Euro-Americans conceived of modernization at a crucial period in Africa’s history.