Saturday, July 4, 2015

Berenice Abbott, Nightview, New York

Berenice Abbott, Nightview, New York, 1932

Berenice Abbott (1898-1911) was an American photographer known for her black and white photography of New York City.  Born in Ohio and raised by a single mother, she attended Ohio State University but left early to move to Greenwich Village in 1918.  She became a part of a group of intellectuals, that included Czech anarchist Hippolyte Havel (who "adopted" Abbott), philosopher Kenneth Burke, writer Djuna Barnes (with whom she shared an apartment), and political activist Emma Goldman.  Abbott initially intended to become a journalist but became interested in theater and sculpture.  In 1919 she almost died in the flu epidemic.  Abbott traveled to Europe in 1921 to study sculpture in Paris and Berlin.  While there, she adopted the French spelling of her name (Bernice became Berenice) at Barnes's suggestion.  She became interested in photography in 1923 when she was hired to be a darkroom assistant by Man Ray.  Abbott took to photography immediately and Man Ray was quite impressed with her skill, allowing her to use his darkroom.  She had immediate success and began photographing major literary and artistic figures, including Jean Cocteau and the canonical portrait of James Joyce (as well as a few others of the author).  Abbott returned to New York in 1929, intending to only visit, but immediately saw the photographic potential around her.  She spent most of the rest of her life there engaged with the city streets and architecture.  Abbott produced dozens of amazing photographs of New York, showing all aspects of the city.  Her 1938 photograph of the Flatiron Building is particularly famous and her 1936 view of the Manhattan Bridge shows the intimacy she brought to her subjects.  Nightview, New York is a stunning view of Manhattan, which shows the luminous city (literally and figuratively) to full effect.

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