There are many photographers who chronicled postwar New York City, and many whose names are all but synonymous with 20th-century depictions of the five boroughs—Berenice Abbott, Alfred Steiglitz, Weegee, even Bill Cunningham. A name that’s perhaps not as well-known is Todd Webb—though an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York may change that.
Webb, born in Detroit in 1905, discovered photography in the late 1930s and fell into a circle of influence after taking a master course in the subject with Ansel Adams in Detroit. The young Webb had a chance encounter in 1942 with influential New York City photographer and gallerist Alfred Steiglitz, who convinced Webb to try New York on for size.
Webb came to New York City in 1945, following a stint in the Navy. With a travel writer’s mindset, he set off chronicling city life. MCNY writes,
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.
Webb’s first solo exhibit, I See a City, opened in New York City in 1946. It was the last time his works were presented in a major museum exhibit until now. A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York 1945 – 1960 is now on view at the Museum of the City of New York, and will remain in place through September 4.
Webb’s depictions of postwar New York City capture the pedestrian life of a city in flux. A few of the exhibit’s 131 photographs, below.