The exhibition opening today at the Museum of the City of New York is not Todd Webb’s first show there—that took place in 1946, when Webb was only a year into a new career as a professional photographer. That career followed several others—he had been a stockbroker before the Great Depression, and served in the Navy during World War II. But in photography he found a long term calling, and New York City was his long term subject. “A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York, 1945-1960,” on view until September 4, collects more than 100 of his images, many of them made with a 5×7 view camera mounted on a tripod, which he carried all over the city, photographing the skyscrapers of Midtown and the Financial District, the tenements of Lower East Side, Harlem near 125th Street, and the neighborhood around the Third Avenue elevated train, before it was torn down. (A concurrent exhibition of his images at The Curator Gallery in New York City runs until May 20.) Webb paid equal attention to the shape of the city and to the people living in it. His images burst with crowded streets, dense skylines and buildings plastered with signs, and they pause to record individuals interactions, between a shoeshiner and client, or between two boys and a cat outside a deli.
In journal entries that accompany the show, Webb describes his explorations of the city, but it was not his only subject. Also on view are portraits he made of friends and colleagues, who shared his love for photography, including Alfred Stieglitz, Harry Callahan, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, and Lisette Model. Like them, Webb’s commitment to his craft was consuming—it left behind a record of a particular time and place, as well as a trace of his passion.