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