Lonely Planet Writer

See 1940s postwar New York through the eyes of photographer Todd Webb

Two exhibitions have just opened in New York to celebrate the work of the late American photographer, Todd Webb. After honing his skills as a Navy photographer in the South Pacific during World War II, the Michigan photographer moved to New York in 1946, where he dedicated himself to photographing the everyday life and architecture of a city that captivated him. Armed with a large format camera and tripod, he walked around engaging with the people and the landscape surrounding him.

Lexington Avenue, Near 110th Street, Harlem, 1946. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate.
Lexington Avenue, Near 110th Street, Harlem, 1946. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate.

Todd captured a city of contrasts, including skyscrapers, signs and storefronts, food vendors and open air markets. He also photographed the bustling street life in the Bowery, Harlem near 125th Street, and old ethnic enclaves in Lower Manhattan. He enjoyed significant support from the New York photo community, including luminaries like Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Walker Evans and Berenice Abbott.

3rd Avenue from 42nd Street El Station, New York, 1945. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate.
3rd Avenue from 42nd Street El Station, New York, 1945. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate.

Stieglitz introduced him to Beaumont Newhall,who helped arrange his first major solo exhibition of New York City photographs. ‘I See A City’ opened at the Museum of the City of New York in September 1946 to glowing reviews, and over 70 years later, the museum is presenting its second solo exhibition with the talented photographer, who who died in 2000 at the age of 95.

LaSalle Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Harlem, New York, 1946. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate
LaSalle Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Harlem, New York, 1946. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate

Prior to moving to New York, Todd lost all of his money in the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and embarked on a seven-year adventure prospecting for gold and working as a fire ranger. After returning to Detroit in 1938, he bought his first camera, and after taking a workshop with Ansel Adams, his fascination with the medium flourished. After moving to New York, he took photographs for many publications, including Fortune.

The Battery, New York (Peanut Peddler), 1945. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate.
The Battery, New York (Peanut Peddler), 1945. Image: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate.

‘A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York, 1945-1960’ runs at the Museum of the City of New York until 4 September. It will feature more than 100 vintage prints as well as excerpts from Webb’s journal writings. Down Any Street: Todd Webb’s NYC Photographs 1945-1960′ runs at the Curator Gallery in New York until 20 May. It will include vintage prints as well as modern prints made by John Hill.