Finding One’s True Passion: From Stockbroker to Lens

Todd Webb born in Detroit (1905–2000) was an American photographer notable for documenting everyday life and architecture in cities such as New York, Paris as well as from the American west.

However before Todd Webb became a notable photographer, he went through a series of jobs and hard times. I find it fascinating how he went through this journey and diverse careers that were totally unrelated to creative photography before he discovered his true passion.

He worked as a bank teller, and was a successful stockbroker during the 1920s but lost his earnings during the Crash before the Depression. During the Depression beginning in 1929, he moved to California and worked as a prospector and earned a meager living. During these years he also worked as a fire ranger for the United States Forestry Service. After 1934, Webb returned to Detroit and worked for the automobile manufacturer Chrysler in their export division. In 1937, he visited a friend in Panama in search of gold, but had little success.

But in Panama, he brought along a camera donated by his former employer, Chrysler.
And so they say…the rest is history.

In 1940 he completed a ten–day workshop with Ansel Adams as his teacher, However he did not follow in Adams path in his work. In 1945 he began his career as a professional photographer.

In 1949 he married independent Lucille Webb who was in her early 40’s (she passed away in 2008 at 101 years old). After 24 hours of knowing her, he asked her to marry him! His journal entry reflects that knowledge… “Things are happening to me, things I hadn’t planned or dreamed of. There is even the possibility I may not be a bachelor forever.”

They lived in Paris for a few years and moved back to New York in 1953. Todd was working as a commercial photographer. During this time Webb received two Guggenheim fellowships in 1954 and 1955, walking across America with his camera.

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In 1960, Webb was lured to Santa Fe by his old friend, Georgia O’Keeffe, and settled there for 10 years. He documented Georgia O’Keeffe’s life for the book “Georgia O’Keeffe: The Artist’s Landscape,” and produced some of the most celebrated images.

From the Southwest to the Northeast, in the 1970’s Webb settled in Auburn Maine and died in 2000 at the the age of 94.

Todd Webb’s photographs have been displayed in 25 major museum collections including the MOMA in New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A portion of his photographic archive––1,400 of his photographs––are at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“Creative photography does not have anything to do with location, projects or causes as such–yet it can involve any of them,” he said. “It is a need to express something within the photographer. A creative photograph is one seen through the photographer. The reason for making the photograph is often unexplainable.”

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