Sudan, 1958, Todd Webb

IN 1958 the American photographer Todd Webb travelled to Africa to document industry and technology.

Commissioned by the United Nations Office of Public Information, Webb photographed the first full election in what was then Togoland (Togo now), oil rigs in Somalia (when it was still known as Somaliland) and copper mining in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) as he visited eight African nations.

Webb arrived in the last days of colonialism and, as Aimee Bessire and Erin Hyde Nolan point out in their new book Todd Webb: Outside the Frame, he was very much a white male outsider. But, at times, his photographs contradict his own romantic images of Africa. (He found the systemic racism in Rhodesia particularly discomforting.)

Perhaps as a result Webb couldn’t find anyone interested in publishing a book of his African photographs when he returned to the US. This part of his archive was later lost due to an unscrupulous dealer in the 1970s, only to be rediscovered in 2017.

Webb died in 2000, aged 94 after a hugely successful career. Todd Webb: Outside the Frame is a reminder of one overlooked corner of his career and uses it to examine larger issues of representation.

Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame by Aimee Bessire and Erin Hyde Nolan, is published by Thames & Hudson, £40. © 2021 Todd Webb Archive