Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott

  • Introduction

  • CV

  • Exhibitions

  • Publications

Berenice Abbott – Witnessing New York’s Metamorphosis

“Photography,” said Berenice Abbott, “can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone; it has to be itself.” Born in America in 1898, Abbott decided not to pursue picturesque images in her work, but to document, to show the subject exactly as it was. Only by distinguishing itself from painting, Abbott believed, would photography become its own artistic medium. This approach secured her a place among the pioneers of avant-garde photography in the twenties, with a raw, unadulterated style playing the central role in her aesthetic.
The project Abbott undertook from 1935 to 1939, and for which she achieved international recognition, was called Changing New York. It is a chronicle of the evolving city through more than 300 black and white pictures, taken during a time of growing depression. To Abbott, good photography was that which documented things as they were, often from unlikely perspectives, and without the use of special effects.
Abbott worked as Man Ray’s assistant in Paris for two years, from 1923-1925, before opening her own atelier. Her first exhibition was held in 1926 in the avant-garde gallery “Au Sacre du Printemps.” Through Man Ray she met the aged photographer Eugène Atget, who was virtually unknown at the time. Following Atget’s unexpected death in 1927, Abbott purchased his estate and ensured his photographic documentation of Paris, spanning over three decades, would reach a broad, international audience.
While searching for a publisher to publish a book she had written about Atget, Abbott returned from Europe to New York after almost a decade away, and was immediately overawed by the city. New York was in a state of flux, old districts were disappearing, and skyscrapers were emerging. Drawing from the avant-garde approach she had developed in Europe, her training from Man Ray, and her passion for Atget’s photography, Abbott became the tireless chronicler of the city, her camera capturing its irresistible disappearance.

1898Born in Springfield Ohio, USA
Studies of Journalism at Ohio State University
1918Moved to Greenwich Village, New York together with Djuna Barnes, Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley
1921Begin of studies of sculpting at St. Emile Bourdelle in Paris, France
1923-1925Assistant of Man Ray in Paris Montparnasse, France
Acquaintance with Eugène Atget
First studio in Paris, France
Studies of Photography in Berlin, Germany
1927Return to Paris and opening of the second studio
1929Return to the USA and work as freelance photo reporter
1934-1958Lecturer for Photography at the New School for Social Research in New York, USA
1935-1939Project “Changing New York”
1940-1960Scientific photo documentation of physical phenomena
1970First retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
1991Died at the age of 93 in Monson, USA


Awards (Selection)

1989International Center of Photography's Lifetime Achievement Award, New York, NY, USA


Exhibits (Selection)

2010-11Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography im Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
Gallery „Au Sacre du Printemps“, Paris, France
1990-91Berenice Abbott photographer: a modern vision, Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Tokyo, Japan
1982-83Atelier Man Ray: Berenice Abbott, Jacques-Andre Boiffard, Bill Brandt, Lee Miller, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
1982Berenice Abbott: the 20's and the 30's im National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., USA
1970-71Berenice Abbott: Photographs vom 10. Dezember 1970 bis zum 10. März 1971 im Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
1939Art in Our Time, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
1928Premier Salon Independent de la Photographie, Paris, France


Books/Catalogs (Selection)

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.

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