Todd Webb (1905–2000) used documentary photography to convey a sense of intimacy and curiosity in the relationship between history, place, and people. Although Webb initially pursued photography to augment his writing, by 1940 he saw it as his central passion. In his hometown of Detroit, Webb attended camera club meetings where he took up with fellow novice Harry Callahan, and the more experienced Arthur Siegel. In 1941, Ansel Adams led a workshop for the camera club that profoundly influenced the ambitions of both Webb and Callahan. Todd Webb’s humanistic approach to documentation allowed him to create a compelling narrative whether he was working in the great cities of the world or within the vast American landscape.
In 1942, during his first trip to New York, Webb met Alfred Stieglitz and Dorothy Norman, both of whom proved highly influential in his early career. After serving as a Navy photographer in New Guinea and the Philippines, Webb relocated to New York City, where he began lifelong friendships with Beaumont and Nancy Newhall and Georgia O’Keeffe. The same year he received commissions from Fortune magazine and began photographing under Roy Stryker at Standard Oil.
Webb lived in Paris from 1949 to 1953, where he worked on assignment for Standard Oil and the newly formed United Nations. There he met and married Lucille Minqueau, another American living abroad. In 1954, the Webbs moved back to New York seeking new opportunities for his photography career. Shortly thereafter, Webb received a Guggenheim fellowship to photograph the early immigrant trails from Missouri to California. On foot, motor scooter, and automobile, Webb retraced the route of a group of New Yorkers who sought California’s land and gold. He was granted a renewal of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956 and completed two books: Gold Strikes and Ghost Towns, and The Gold Rush Trail and the Road to Oregon. During the years 1957 to 1959, Webb acted as a consultant and photographer to the United Nations, which took him to Mexico and Africa.
In 1961, Webb and wife Lucille moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where a growing friendship with Mitchell Wilder, the first Director of the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, led to commissions to photograph Texas’s nineteenth-century architecture. The project resulted in two books and an exhibition which traveled throughout the Southwest. After ten years in Santa Fe, the Webbs moved to France and later, England. In 1975 they settled in Maine, where they lived until Webb’s death in 2000.
The Todd Webb Archive contains personal papers and photographic materials related to his long career as a photographer, including correspondence, biographical files, exhibition documentation, manuscripts, journals, extensive files of negatives, contact sheets, and over 1,400 fine prints.