In 1958, photographer Todd Webb, best known for his remarkable images of the everyday life and architecture of New York and Paris, as well as photographs of the American West, was commissioned by the United Nations Office of Public Information to document the progress of industry and technology in what were then eight different African nations, either recently independent or on the cusp of gaining independence in the aftermath of World War II.
Over the course of four months, Webb traveled through Togo, Ghana, Sudan, Somalia, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia (which are now Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now merged as Tanzania), and Kenya. Outfitted with three cameras, he amassed approximately 2,000 images in that time, but only 22 of them were published by the U.N., in black & white, in a 7-page brochure. The remainder of the negatives were dispersed in the 1970s and only reunited with the Todd Webb Archive in 2017.
Taken in color, these images of countries at the intersection of colonialism and independence stand out from Webb’s well-known images of the streets of New York and Paris. This viewing room showcases 36 of these striking color photographs from his African journey, documenting not only industrial change but also people, homes, landscapes, and daily activities, bringing the past to vibrant life.
“The cry of ablode! [freedom] rings in the streets.”
-Todd Webb, 1958
"Todd Webb in Africa is a beautiful book and collection of photographs with historical value. Its relevance is undeniable...The book contains 150 full-color photographs of Webb’s travels, capturing not only the rapidly changing political environment of mid-century Africa, but vast, breath-taking landscapes and everyday people going about their business: men hard at work, mothers with their children, children playing or attending school, power plants, rural towns, and modernized cities. At first glance, everything appears normal, even uneventful, but that is far from the case."
"American photographer, Todd Webb, went to Africa to document its industrial progress. Instead, he captured its soul."
- The Vagabond Imperative