40th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, from Salmon Tower 11 West 42nd Street, Manhattan.

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Artist Statement

 

In this Berenice Abbott image, we find ourselves high above the bustling streets of New York City. Our view is that of a bird perched on Salmon Tower at 11 West 42nd Street, looking southwest toward 40th Street.

To the left of the image is the iconic, Beaux-Arts styled Bryant Park Studios. The building has previously been home to several artists, and now functions as a hub for retail stores, design studios, and more. On the right, the gothic World's Tower is dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers. Constructed in 1913, it was considered tall at 30 stories, but as commerce in the area grew, so did construction.

Ever so slightly out of view in this photograph is Bryant Park, situated between the photographer and her architectural subjects. In Berenice Abbott's time, Bryant Park was not the verdant respite it is today. The Sixth Avenue elevated railway ran noisily nearby, shaking the buildings and shedding ash, oil, and cinders on pedestrians underneath. The park was neglected and considered disreputable. Robert Moses headed a redesign in 1933 as a public works project, but by the time this photo was taken in December 1935, the El was the subject of a controversial removal campaign that eventually caused the park to shut down while the replacement underground line was built.

 

Berenice Abbott | See All Editions

 

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.

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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: sales from Vintage Editions prints go towards supporting our growing roster of artists.