Stunning Street Photos Capture Simple Joys of Life in New York Right After WWII

Todd Webb postwar New York

LaSalle at Amsterdam, 1946

Born in 1905 and raised in Detroit, American street photographer Todd Webb led an adventurous life. After losing his money in the Stock Market Crash of 1929, he spent time fruitlessly prospecting for gold until returning to his hometown and picking up a camera in 1938. It was there he found his calling.

After working as a Navy photographer during WWII, Webb moved to New York City and, in 1946, started documenting post-war New York. Webb felt a taste of success during his lifetime, with his work immediately supported by important photographers of the day—Walker Evens and Alfred Stieglitz among others. His first solo exhibition opened at the Museum of the City of New York in 1946.

A press release for that exhibition sums up perfectly Webb's prowess as a photographer. “He works with swift precision, directly and honestly recording what he sees. His straightforward, unmanipulated contact prints convey a maximum sense of authenticity and are historical records of obvious documentary value. More than this, they are personal interpretations, through which he has imparted to us warmth of appreciation and the excitement of visual discovery. He brings out the human quality even when the people are absence.”

And now, things have come full circle, with more than 100 vintage photographs from the Todd Webb Archive on exhibit at the Museum of the City of  New York through September 4, 2017. A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York, 1945-1960 also displays Webb's journal entries alongside his work, giving insight into his mindset as he lived post-war American life.

For those really wanting to delve into Webb's work, a second exhibition is running concurrently at The Curator Gallery in New York's Chelsea district. Curated by Bill Shapiro, former editor-in-chief of LIFE Magazine, Down Any Street: Todd Webb’s NYC Photographs 1945-1960, combines vintage and modern prints, revealing Webb's city of contrasts. Moving through the streets with his medium format camera and tripod, he captured New York on the precipice of change, as the city shed its skin to emerge as the modern metropolis we now know.

Street photographer Todd Webb capture the spirit of post-war New York. His recently opened exhibtions in New York show the city's spirit from 1946 to 1960.

Todd Webb New York street photography

Near Fulton Fish Market (Four Boys), 1946

Todd Webb New York street photography

White Rose Bar, 1946

Todd Webb postwar New York

The Battery (Peanut Man), 1946

Todd Webb New York street photography

From the Empire State Building Looking South (Day), 1946

Todd Webb postwar New York

Mr. Perkin’s Pierce Arrow, 1946

Todd Webb New York street photography

Under the El, Third Avenue, 1946

Todd Webb Archive: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to use images by the Todd Webb Archive.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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