Happy birthday Berenice Abbott



Berenice Abbott (July 17, 1898—December 9, 1991) was an American photographer. She is best known for her photographs of New York City taken during the 1930s, when the city was undergoing major industrial changes.


Abbott was born Bernice Abbott in Springfield, Ohio, raised by her single mother. She attended Ohio State University briefly, but soon left to move to New York's Greenwich Village. During this first stay in New York, she lived with writer Djuna Barnes, philosopher Kenneth Burke, and literary critic Malcolm Cowley. While there, she first supported herself as an artists' model. Though she initially was there to study journalism, she became interested in art, specifically theater and sculpture, as a result of meeting Eugene O'Neill, Man Ray, and Sadakichi Hartmann.


Before long, she was studying sculpture in Paris and Berlin. In 1923, artist Man Ray, known as one of the pioneers of the Dada movement, hired her as his dark room assistant specifically because she knew nothing about photography. Eventually, she began using Ray's facilities for her own work and in 1926, had her first solo exhibition. She started a studio on the rue du Bac, and later another on rue Servandoni.

While in Paris, Abbott mainly photographed important figures. Some of her subjects included Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, Max Ernst, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. While in Paris, Abbott was also deeply influenced by Eugène Atget, an artist known for his photographs of the streets of Paris.






She returned to New York in 1929. The city was undergoing significant changes and transforming into a modern urban center. Abbott set out to capture these transformations throughout the 1930s. A notable project during this period was a series of photographs documenting a Federal Works Project Administration initiative that lasted from 1935 to 1939. She published her photographs from this period in a series called Changing New York. The book remains landmark in 20th century photography.







From 1934-1958, Abbott taught photography at the New School. "Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium," Abbott said, "it has to walk alone; it has to be itself."

From 1939 to 1960, Abbott photographed scientific subjects. In 1958, she published a series of photos for a high school physics textbook called Bouncing ball in Diminishing Arcs. She was picture editor at Science Illustrated magazine during this time.




Some of her most notable photographs include Under the El at the Battery (1936)


Nightview (1932),


and James Joyce (1928).


Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Thursday, 17 July 2014
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