Untitled (44UN-7943-006), Tanganyika (Tanzania), 1958


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50.8 x 40.6 cm
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67.2 x 61 cm
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Copyright. Courtesy of the Todd Webb Archive


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Untitled (44UN-7943-006), Tanganyika (Tanzania), 1958

Webb made this photograph on July 19, 1958, amid a boundless plantation of sisal—the oldest commercial crop in Tanzania. The edges of the photograph barely contain the plants as they fan out at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.

By 1961, the year Tanganyika became independent from Great Britain, the country reigned as the world’s largest sisal exporter. Instead of an army of European soldiers or bureaucrats, in this image the plants themselves act as foreign colonizing forces, invading the field and disrupting the health of indigenous species.

Todd Webb

In 1905, Charles Clayton ("Todd") Webb III was born in Detroit, Michigan. Having been a successful stockbroker in the 1920’s, he lost all of his earnings, and then some, in The Crash. During the Depression, Webb prospected for gold, worked as a forest ranger, and wrote short stories that have gone unpublished. It was during this exploratory period in the 1930s that he first picked up a camera. His interest and love for photography soon crowded out his writing ambitions, and he was able to do the two things he loved the most: travel, meet people, and photograph them.

In 1938 Webb joined the Chrysler Camera Club in Detroit, where he met aspiring photographer Harry Callahan. Through a workshop from Ansel Adams, Webb's interest in the sharp focus technique of "straight photography" was confirmed. After serving in World War II, Todd Webb moved to New York where he nurtured a friendship with Alfred Stieglitz and his wife Georgia O’Keeffe who introduced him to Beaumont Newhall, and later Newhall curated the first major exhibition of Webb's photographs for The Museum of The City of New York. Also during this time, Todd worked for Roy Stryker and the Standard Oil Company.

In 1949 Todd Webb returned to Paris, and met his wife Lucille, remaining in France for the next four years. In both 1955 and 1956, Todd Webb was awarded two successive John Simon Guggenheim fellowships to photograph the pioneer trails that early America settlers followed to Oregon and California. While his contemporary, Robert Frank drove across the country during these years, Todd walked a...

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