(1/55) Berenice Abbott - Photographer


Berenice Abbott by Walker Evans

Berenice Abbott, born 1898 died 1991 was a major figure in the development of architectural photography & the establishment of a modernist hard edged approach to photography. But is probably best known by many for helping to create what could be called a 'New York' style in photography,

She got involved with photography in 1923, when she started work for Man Ray as a darkroom assistant in his Paris studio.
She is reported as saying she "took to photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to do anything else."
With access to his darkroom, and encouraged by Man Ray she began taking her own photographs.

Several years later she discovered (via Man Ray) the work of Eugène Atget and managed to take his portrait just before his death 2 years later.

In 1929, Abbott returned to New York City on a mission to get Atget's photographs published in the States. She got seduced instead by the landscape of New York, trying to emulate Atget but coming up instead with her own heroic vision of skyscrapers and city streets.

When you look at these pictures today, it's impossible to think of a time when this artistic version of New York was brand new & modern. This bold graphic re-imagining of New York is so indelibly associated with how the world sees this capital city.

It's difficult for us living in a much later period, to remember that her photographs, along with those of another modernist Alfred Steiglitiz (many of which were taken over a decade before) were entirely new depictions of this (then) entirely modern landscape.

But skyscrapers and city streets, weren't all that Berenice Abbott photographed.

She was sensitive to the peculiar poetry of the street that seemed to attract other photographers, most notably Walker Evans. The image of the Gun Shop & Barclay Street Station are the kind of really strong images that might also have attracted him.

As are the Florida pictures (where Evans also worked) and those taken in New Jersey.

In addition to the deliberation & craft demonstrated by the architectural photographs, she also took many portraits of celebrated artists & writers of the day.

They show she was equally confident with spontaneous invention. Her photograph of Cocteau (below) is particularily good.

Murray Hill Hotel, from Park Avenue and 40th Street, Manhattan (November 19, 1935)

Night View. Midtown Manhattan, New York City, (1934)
Gun Shop ca. 1930

 Barclay Street Station

Sunoco Station, Trenton, New Jersey, 1954

Refreshment Stand, Daytona Beach, Florida, 1954
Jean Cocteau

James Joyce
All photographs copyright original copyright owners
All text copyright Nick Lloyd 2012
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