Photographer Biography – ABBOTT, BERENICE

USA, 1898-1991


American photographer Berenice Abbott was born in Springfield Ohio in 1898 and died in retirement in Monson, Maine in 1991. Except for a formative and influential decade in Paris in the 1920s, she spent most of her productive life in photography in New York City.

Her five decades of accomplishments behind the camera range from portraiture and modernist experimentation to documentation and scientific interpretation.

Her contributions as photographic educator, inventor, author and historian are equally diverse: she originated the photography program at the New School for Social Research and taught there from 1934-58.

She wrote several books and numerous articles including the once influential Guide to Better Photography (1941); received four U.S. patents for photographic and other devices; and rescued the work of French master photographer Eugene Atget.

Abbott’s photographs consistently reflect her innate appreciation for the profound documentary capacity of rigorously conceived images to impart information in an aesthetically engaging way. Within four major thematic categories — Portraits (1920s-1930s), New York City (1930s-1940s), Science (1940-1950s), and American Scenes (1930s-1960s) — Abbott’s photographs effectively unite the personal and the impersonal in one penetrating body of work. Her systematic documentary photography of New York City for the Federal Arts Project during 1935-1939, Changing New York is the subject pictured here.

These are some of her photos:

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