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Portland Museum of Art : Todd Webb in Africa : Outside The Frame


A recently recovered photographic series documents the compelling photographic journey of American photographer Todd Webb through nine African countries on the cusp of independence. With Todd Webb in Africa : Outside The Frame, an exhibition and a book are the occasion to discover these unknown works by Webb.

In 1958, photographer Todd Webb, best known for his remarkable images of the everyday life and architecture of New York and Paris, as well as photographs of the American West, was commissioned by the United Nations Office of Public Information to document the progress of industry and technology in what were then nine different African nations, either recently independent or on the cusp of gaining independence in the aftermath of World War II.

Over the course of four months, Webb traveled through Togo, Ghana, Sudan, Somalia, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia (now Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now merged as Tanzania), and Kenya. Outfitted with three cameras, he amassed approximately 2,000 images in that time; yet only 22 of them were published by the U.N., in black & white, in a 7-page brochure. The remainder of the negatives were dispersed in the 1970s and only reunited with the Todd Webb Archive in 2017.

Webb’s striking color photographs present an outsider’s view onto the social, political, and cultural dynamics on the continent at a critical period between colonialism and independence. Resisting stereotypical or exoticizing frameworks, Webb created images of countries on the brink of change, documenting not only industrial change but also people, homes, landscapes, and daily activities, bringing the past to vibrant life.

At the same time, the neglect or suppression of his photographs until recently raise important questions concerning photographic agency and power, racial and national privilege, and the ways in which Euro-Americans conceived of modernization at a crucial period in Africa’s history.


The accompanying book Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame (Thames & Hudson) showcases more than 150 photographs from Webb’s African journey. Included essays by co-authors Aimée Bessire and Erin Hyde Nolan engage the photographs in their historical and artistic moment and provide crucial insight into the role of photography in visualizing national independence and ingrained imperialism.


Exhibition details:
Todd Webb In Africa : Outside The Frame
March 24 through June 18, 2023
The Portland Museum of Art
7 Congress Square
Portland, Maine 04101


Book Details:
Todd Webb In Africa : Outside The Frame
Thames & Hudson
Hardcover / ISBN: 9780500545393
256 pp | 203 illustrations
Price: $50 US

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