portraits + power dynamics

Todd Webb’s pictures of individuals provide glimpses into the dynamics between the photographer and those he photographed during his United Nations assignment. Though we may never know the true texture of these encounters, or what the people in the photographs were feeling as Webb clicked his shutter, it is possible to consider what Tanzanian artist and theorist Rehema Chachage called “two tales”—an outsider’s and an insider’s perspective.

As a white American man, Webb was an outsider to the cultures he visited. And while his photographs differ distinctly from those of earlier outsiders, who understood their work in line with the anthropological study of cultural “types” rather than of individuals, they nevertheless give material and visual form to unequal power dynamics. We might consider whether individuals, like the man in a red suit walking down a Mogadishu street, willingly or unwillingly participated in these exchanges.