industry + economy

In 1958, the United Nations Office of Information hired Todd Webb to document industry and technology on the African continent. His itinerary focused on emerging African nation states on the cusp of independence. As part of this photographic commission, Webb was charged with representing these countries as modern, industrial, and globally networked commercial entities. At the same time, as a successful white American photographer, his cultural experiences and economic privileges distanced him from some of the people and cultures he portrayed.

Webb’s photographic record fulfilled a diplomatic vision, documenting both large- and small-scale industry. Luscious images from colonial department stores in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), the working harbor in Accra, Ghana, and fishing on the beach in Somalia aestheticize diverse economic practices. As representations of a modernizing Africa, Webb’s photographs assert optimism and possibility. But much of this progress was based on the colonial imposition of extractive industries, as seen in images such as the Sinclair oil rig (Somalia) and Texaco filling station (Togo).