Berenice Abbott

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Berenice Abbott (17 July, 1898 - 9 December, 1991) was an American photographer known for her black and white images of New York City.

Berenice Abbott was born 17 July, 1898 in Springford, Ohio. After having graduated in Ohio she moved to New York and studied journalism, sculpture and painting. In 1921 she moved to Paris where she studied sculpture with Emile Bourdelle, learned photography as assistant of Man Ray since 1923, and founded an own photographic studio in 1926. She had the chance to portray many of the most famous artists of the 1920s.

While in Paris, she met French photographer Eugène Atget several months before his death. Berenice was impressed by his work and arranged to purchase all of it, including between 6,000 - 9,000 prints and negatives.[1] Atget photographed the architecture and people on Paris streets. She brought Atget's photographs back to the United States with her and made them available to photography magazines and museums.

After eight years in Paris, she returned to the USA in 1929. She was surprised by how fast the American Cities had changed and by the contrast of wealth and poverty. Inspired by Atget's work, she set out to document New York City during the Great Depression photographically. Starting in 1935 her documentation project "Changing New York" was subsidized by the state's "Federal Art Project" so that she had assistants and a car for her photographic City exploration. Her camera of choice was a large format view camera.

Her goal was to provide documentary photography as a historical record, rather than capture emotional content. In a 1981 interview she noted, "People say they have to express their emotions. I'm sick of that. Photography doesn't teach you how to express your emotions; it teaches you how to see".[2]

She taught at the New School for Social Research in New York from the 1930s until 1958. Together with photographer Paul Strand she founded the Photo League. She returned to portrait photography in the 1940s and found new challenges the area of scholarly photography. She made further documentations like that of a trip on the US Route 1 from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida. A highlight of her work were unique photographs of artistic height and scientific value which she made for the Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy, showing physics phenomenas in new aesthetic and explanative way.

In 1985 a company named Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc. was formed to "handle the commercial aspects of Berenice Abbott’s photography and to provide a continuing source for her photographs and her legacy".[3] Commerce Graphics later began to represent photographer Arnold Newman as well and continues to manage the works of both artists, arranging for their photography to be exhibited and published.

Berenice Abbot died in 1991.

Example Photos


  1. Koetzle, Hans-Michael (2011). Photographers A-Z. Taschen. ISBN 978-3-8365-1109-4
  2. Art News, January, 1981
  3. Commerce Graphics Ltd Inc. website: About Us