Berenice Abbott's introduction to New York in 1929 was a rude, energizing awakening. "I came to New York on a visit and I got a little homesick," she said once. "It's like a novelist who gets a bug in his head. How does any artist get his ideas, his sunburst out of the blue? There is such a bang. There it was, for better or for worse. I was shocked and excited by New York, its changes." Primed by this "bang," Abbott went about the city finding perches and angles from which to capture a city in flux and dealing strategically with the realities of being one of two women shooting on the street. "There were women, like Margaret Bourke-White, but there weren't many women photographers and that didn't make it easier. Women did not wear slacks then; they wore skirts. When I photographed New York, I put on ski pants. Truck drivers yelled at me, 'Lady, take that off.' It bothered me, it even bothered me when people gathered around as I was setting up my camera in the street. But I found in New York the best way is to ignore them, as if they weren't there."
Berenice Abbott was an American photographer best known for her black and white photography of New York City architecture and urban design of the 1930s. Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio. She attended the Ohio State University, but left in early 1918. Abbott went to Europe in 1921, spending two years studying sculpture in Paris and Berlin. In addition to her work in the visual arts, Abbott published poetry in the experimental literary journal transition. Abbott first became involved with photography in 1923, when Man Ray, looking for somebody who knew nothing about photography and thus would do as he said, hired her as a darkroom assistant at his portrait studio in Montparnasse. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery Au Sacre du Printemps) and started her own studio on the rue du Bac. In early 1929, Abbott visited New York and was struck by its photographic potential. She moved to the city and began work on her New York project, which she worked on independently until 1935, when she was hired by the Federal Art Project as a project supervisor for her Changing New York
project. She continued to take the photographs of the city, but she had assistants to help her both in the field and in the office. This arrangement allowed Abbott to devote all her time to producing, printing and exhibiting her photographs. By the time she resigned from the FAP in 1939, she had produced 305 photographs that were then deposited at the Museum of the City of New York.
For our Vintage Editions series, our curators scour historical archives for both timeless classics and heretofore unseen gems. These images come back to life as exhibition-quality prints now available to everyone. As a bonus, purchasing equals patronage: Ten percent of the sales from Vintage Editions prints goes directly into the 20x200 Artist Fund, which helps support our current roster of artists. That furthers one of our core missions: helping more artists make a living by making work.