“Photography helps people to see” – Berenice Abbott
Berenice Abbott was an American photographer known for her black and white images of New York architecture. The lesser known fact about this photographer is the fact that she was a great portrait photographer as well.
Berenice Abbott start in photography was as Man Ray’s assistant in studio. Initially, she had no interest in photography and had no intention of becoming anything but a good darkroom assistant.
She had completely immersed herself in her new role and immensely enjoyed the process. On her own, she began to work long hours to perfect her techniques.
Although she never took any photography lesson’s from Man Ray, he did however, suggest that she took some photographs herself. He showed her how the camera worked and she began taking photographs on her lunch break.
Soon after her start, she started to charge for her services and her clientele grew quickly. Her reputation grew quickly and within the next year she opened her own portrait studio and soon she had just as much or more business than Man Ray. On June 8, 1926, Abbott had her first solo exhibition at the Jan Slivinsky Gallery entitled, Portraits Photographiques. The show received rave reviews. Abbott remained in Paris for almost ten years and during this period she was introduced to Eugene Atget’s photography.
Abbott was consumed by Atget’s work, which she had first seen in Man Ray’s studio. She wanted to see more and seeked him out.
After Abbott became a recognised portrait photographer, she took Atget’s portrait. After developing the images, Abbott returned to Atget’s apartment only to learn he had just recently died.
She then acquired virtually all that remained of Atget’s archive: 1500 negatives and 8000 prints. She then devoted much of the next fourty years to conserving this work and promoting its wider understanding.
The clarity of vision that she saw in his photography, undoubtedly inspired much of her later work. Abbott’s first thought on her return to New York was that “old New York” must be photographed from every aspect.
She later applied and received funding for her Changing New York project. She was approved a monthly grant which allowed her to have the total artistic freedom. It took almost ten years of documenting New York, the images were eventually published in a book Changing New York. The depletion of the funding saw the conclusion of that aspect of her photographic career.
Several major photographic projects consumed the latter part of Abbott’s life. She worked on a specially designed lighting process, which she called Projection Photography. Abbott also invented and patented other photographic related equipment and gadgets. We live in a world made by science.
Here are a few of my favourite images by the photographer. More can be found out about the artist here.