Berenice Abbott Photography

Berenice Abbott

American (1898-1991)

BERENICE ABBOTT, Gambetta Snuff Shop, New York, 1936, silver print, ca. 1936, 10" x 8"

BERENICE ABBOTT, Gambetta Snuff Shop, New York, 1936, silver print, ca. 1936, 10″ x 8″

BERENICE ABBOTT, “El, 9th Ave.” NYC, 1936, silver print, printed ca. 1936, 9" x 7"

BERENICE ABBOTT, “El, 9th Ave.” NYC, 1936, silver print, printed ca. 1936, 9″ x 7″

BERENICE ABBOTT, "Traveling Tin Shop, Brooklyn”, 1936, silver print, printed ca. 1936, 7 15/16" x 9 15/16"

BERENICE ABBOTT, “Traveling Tin Shop, Brooklyn”, 1936, silver print, printed ca. 1936, 7 15/16″ x 9 15/16”

Biography | Bibliography

In 1918, Abbott went to New York City to study sculpture. By 1921, she had become disenchanted with New York. She left for Europe where she spent time in Paris and Berlin. She worked for Man Ray in Paris as a darkroom assistant. She soon established a career as a portrait photographer. In 1929, she returned to New York for a visit and was “seized by a fantastic passion” to photograph the city. She stayed for 10 years.

During the eight years that Abbott had been away, New York had changed in many ways. New skyscrapers were replacing older buildings, and the city was changing daily. Abbott slowly moved away from taking portraits of people and began photographing New York City itself.

She was having difficulty supporting herself. She tried to get financial support for the project she called Changing New York. She spent several years trying to get funding. All the while, she kept photographing the city she loved.

She finally found support in 1935 from the Federal Art Project, a small part of the Works Progress Administration, which was a federal government organization that funded a number of arts projects during the 1930’s. The Federal Art Project was a relief agency for artists. Its goal was to show that art contributed to the general welfare of the population.

The project, Changing New York, took place between 1935 and 1939. During this time, Abbott strove to capture the elements of change and contrast in her photographs of the city. She wished to “show the skyscraper in relation to the less colossal edifices which preceded it…the past jostling the present.” She focused on Manhattan, then on Brooklyn and the Bronx. She also took a few photographs of Queens and Staten Island.

Abbott received an unexpected amount of publicity over the project. In 1937, the Museum of the City of New York, who also sponsored the project, exhibited 110 of “Changing New York’s,” best photographs. In 1939, E.P. Dutton & Company published a book entitled Berenice Abbott: Changing New York, which reproduced 97 of her photographs. The book has remained a classic throughout the 20th century.

Abbott’s images capture the essence of depression era New York and make her one of America’s leading photographers of our time.

Bibliography

Cheryl Finley, Berenice Abbott, New York: Commerce Graphics Ltd., Inc., 1988.

Lee Gallery, Berenice Abbott: Vintage Photographs of New York from the 1930‘s, Winchester, MA: Lee Gallery, September 1999.

Chenoweth Hall, Berenice Abbott: A Portrait of Maine, New York: Macmillan, 1968.

Elizabeth McCausland, New York in the Thirties, as Photographed by Berenice Abbott, Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1939.

Janine A. Mileaf, Constructing Modernism: Berenice Abbott and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Middletown, CT: Davison Art Center, 1993.

Hank O’Neal, Berenice Abbott: American Photographer, Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982.

Muriel Rukeyser, David Vestal, Berenice Abbott Photographs, Norwich, UK: Horizon Press, 1970.

Julia Van Haaften, Berenice Abbott, Photographer: A Modern Vision, New York: The New York Public Library, 1989.

Bonnie Yochelson, Berenice Abbott: Changing New York, New York: The New Press, 1997.