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First major museum exhibition of Todd Webb's photographs opens in New York
Todd Webb, "LaSalle Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Harlem, New York," 1946. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York and the Todd Webb Estate.


NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of the City of New York presents A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York 1945-1960, a photography exhibition highlighting Todd Webb’s personal exploration of the city that enthralled him while providing an expansive visual documentation of New York in the years following World War II. A City Seen opens to the public on Thursday, April 20 and will remain on view through Monday, September 4, 2017.

In 1946, the Museum of the City of New York was the first institution to give Todd Webb (1905-2000) a solo exhibition. Seven decades later, the Museum revisits the city as seen through the lens of a traveler who worked his way into the highest circles of mid-20th-century New York photography and recorded the city’s humanity, highlighting people and places as much as streetscapes and skyscrapers.

In 1945, 40-year-old Todd Webb (born Charles Clayton Webb, III) was discharged from the Navy and moved to New York City and began his career as a professional photographer. Before his war service, Webb tried a variety of occupations – stockbroker, prospector, office clerk at Chrysler. But a master class with Ansel Adams in Detroit persuaded him that photography was his true calling. His introduction to New York came in 1942 when a chance meeting with influential photographer, gallerist, and impresario Alfred Stieglitz encouraged Webb to return to New York after the war and spend a full year photographing his explorations of the city, its neighborhoods, and people.

“These beautiful vintage photographs have as much to tell us about postwar New York as they do about the city’s uncanny ability to attract and inspire creativity,” said Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “Todd Webb’s work communicates the artist’s desire to explore New York City’s streets, to experience the city for himself, and to share his vision with others through his art.”

Armed with a large-format camera and tripod, Webb worked tirelessly to chronicle the city from a newcomer’s perspective. He documented New York’s postwar contours and contrasts, giving equal weight to high-powered businessmen in Midtown and the Financial District to the remnants of old ethnic enclaves in the Lower East Side and street peddlers scattered through Lower Manhattan. His focus on the city’s beauty and humanity weaves his images into a portrait, no matter how varied their subjects or locations.

“Todd Webb’s career spanned 15 crucial years in terms of New York becoming a preeminent world city, and he did an amazing job capturing the beauty and dignity of everyday life in a tumultuous period,” said Sean Corcoran, Museum Curator of Prints and Photography. “At the same time, there is something timeless about his use of photography as a means of familiarizing himself with new surroundings, as a way to explore different neighborhoods and see what makes the city tick. We hope all our visitors, from New Yorkers to tourists from across the country and around the world, find something to relate to in that aspect of his work.”

New York City launched Webb’s career as a successful photographer and introduced him to artists and luminaries, including Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Beaumont Newhall, Georgia O’Keefe, Gordon Parks, Edward Steichen, and Minor White, who would become lifelong friends and colleagues. His big break came when Stieglitz introduced him to Beaumont Newhall, who curated his first major solo exhibition of his New York City photographs. In September 1946, the original I See A City exhibition opened at the Museum of the City of New York to critical acclaim and popular enthusiasm.

In the 1946 press release for I See A City, Newhall explained Webb’s gift for capturing the essence of the city and its people, saying the photographer “has seen our city not as a glittering megalopolis, but as a community.” Newhall added that “above all Todd Webb’s portrait of the city is dignified. It is revealing, it is not always pleasant, but it is a portrait which all New Yorkers will respect and appreciate.”

A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York features 131 of Webb’s photographs as well as excerpts from his journal entries, providing a window into the photographer’s emotions and the motivations behind the photos. The exhibition also showcases ephemera based on a wide array of New York communities featuring the city, the people, and the neighborhoods Webb grew to love, which taken together, offer viewers a unique sense of place and time.





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