Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott Photo

Bernice Abbott was born on 17th July 1898.  She was a photographer from Ohio, America noted for her monochrome photography of the 1930s urban design and architecture of New York . Abbott grew up with the support of her mother who was divorced. In 1918, she left the Ohio State University and moved to Greenwich Village in New York with her friends. She shared a flat with people like Kenneth Burke (philosopher), Djuna Barnes (writer), and Malcolm Cowley (literary critic) on Greenwich Avenue. Initially she wanted to become a journalist but then her fondness grew for sculpture and theatre after interactions with Sadakichi Hartmann, Eugene O’Neill and Man Ray.

In 1921, Abbott moved to Europe to study sculpture in Berlin and Paris. She not only worked on visual arts but also published poems in Transition, a literary magazine. After two years, she became an assistant in Man Ray’s portrait photography studio. She worked in the dark room and Man Ray was impressed by her work to the extent that he granted her the permission to do her photography in his studio.

In 1925, she was introduced to Eugène Atget’s photos. She really admired his work  and thus she asked Atget to pose for a portrait, shortly after which he died. After his death, Abbott bought some of his work a year later and began to promote it. She published books on his work, such as Atget, photographe de Paris (1930), and The World of Atget (1964).

In 1926, she did her first solitary show at the Au Sacre du Printemps gallery. She then opened her personal photo studio on Rue du Bac in Paris. After studying photography for some time on Berlin, she returned in 1927 to Paris and opened another studio on Rue Servandoni. Her photography subjects were literary and artistic people, including Jean Cocteau, James Joyce and others. Her work was displayed in Salon de l’Escalier and at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées , Paris with the works of Man Ray, André Kertész and others.

In 1929, Berenice Abbott traveled to New York and seeing the city she realized its photographic capacity. She then shut her studio in Paris and returned in September to New York  and began taking photos. At first she used the handheld camera, Kurt Bentzin and later she used a Century Universal 8 x 10 camera. She independently worked on this project for six years. She supported her living by doing commercial photography and instructing at the New School of Social Research. In 1935, the Federal Art Project hired Abbott as a project manager for her Changing New York project. This time she had support and assistants to help her. In 1939, she resigned and had taken 305 photos that were later given to a museum in New York. In the same year a photo book was published with her photographs of the city, the book captions were contributed by Elizabeth McCausland.

In 1958, Abbott photographed for educational purpose, such as physics books for high schools, including Bouncing ball in diminishing arcs cover. Some of her such photographic work was shown in 2012 at the MIT Museum.

For twenty years, McCausland and Abbott traveled to Maine from Florida and, Berenice Abbott took pictures of towns and architecture. She produced more than 2450 negatives. After this, Abbott had to move away from New York since she had to undergo an operation for her lung problem and she died 9th December 1991. A Portrait of Maine, 1968 was her last book.

Berenice Abbott Photos