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New Edition! Abbott Captures The Tempo Of The City

Time is a formative element of photography. We talk about “capturing” shots like they’ll get away from us; we create and collect photographs as a way to freeze and suspend a distinct moment that stirs something inside us. But even as more photographs are taken every day, time continues to outpace our images. In Berenice Abbotts Tempo of the City: I. Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, Manhattan, the clock in the foreground stands as an unmissable reminder of impermanence, while calling to mind the few facets that stand the test of time.

Tempo of the City: I. Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, Manhattan. by Berenice Abbott
8"x8" ($24) | 11"x11" ($60) | 16"x16" ($240) | 24"x24" ($800) 

The era: 1930s. The time: early afternoon. Berenice Abbott perches carefully above the crowd. People and cars stream by her. She goes largely unnoticed, or perhaps ignored—only two men to the left of the clock seem to have caught on to their being photographed. She composes her image, Tempo of the City: I. Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, Manhattan

This is one of many photographs Berenice made as part of a larger project: Changing New York, which has continued to captivate us as we’ve brought more Berenice Abbott photographs onto our site. While Abbott was documenting the city’s many changes, looking at her work almost eight decades later we can’t help but notice the similarities between her New York and ours. The clock still stands at 44th Street and 5th Avenue, fancy fur-trimmed coats and chic hats have yet to leave the scene, and vintage taxis still make their way through the streets.

And yet, as inhabitants of the city that never sleeps, we’re aware that it is—even now!—constantly changing. People flow in as others ebb out; small businesses open and close; buildings are torn down and erected; dreams are endlessly redesigned. For as many similarities as we spot in Tempo of the City: I. Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, Manhattan, we know the big apple will forever be on a branch just out of reach. Such is the beauty of Berenice Abbott’s photographs: they allow us to time travel from the safety of our seats, getting one step closer to connecting with our past and knowing this city we call home. 

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