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Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott

"“Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone; it has to be itself.” - Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott was an American photographer, born in Springfield Ohio in 1898. Abbott first became interested in sculpture, and it was through this interest that she became acquainted with photographers Nikolas Muray and Man Ray while supporting herself as an artist's model. She also met Marcel Duchamp, and was an active participant in Dadaist publications. In 1923, Abbott turned from sculpture to photography. From 1923-1926, she worked as Man Ray's darkroom assistant in Paris. At Man Ray's suggestion, she began taking portraits in his studio and ended up creating an extraordinary series of the artistic and literary celebrities of the 1920s. One of the subjects of her portraits was the photographer Eugène Atget. When Abbot went to show him the photographs she took, she discovered that he had passed away. Being aware of his extensive documentation of Paris from the 1880s until his death in 1927, she purchased (with the help of friends) his 1,400 glass plate negatives and 7,800 prints. She was successful in securing him international recognition and was the driving force behind exhibitions and publications of his photographs. In 1968, she sold the Atget Collection to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Abbot was well versed in her photography. Her five decades of accomplishments behind the camera range from portraiture and modernist experimentation to documentation and scientific interpretation. She also made important contributions as a photographic educator, inventor, author and historian. She began her famed documentation of New York City in 1929; in which many of the best photographs were collected in her book Changing New York (1939). In 1958, she produced a stunningly beautiful set of photographs for a high-school physics text that some critics consider her finest work. Berenice Abbott died in retirement in Monson, Maine in 1991.


Julia Van Haaften, from The New York Public Library

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition



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