Bernice Abbot, considered a master of New York street photography, is remembered as one of the most determined and respected photographers of the twentieth century. Her vintage black and white prints of 1930s New York street photography, titled “Changing New York,” is considered a treasure of the genre. The project was funded in September of 1935 by the Federal Art Project, and took Abbott nearly ten years to complete. It is hailed as having captured the budding architectural future of New York City in the form of massive skyscrapers and sweeping bridges that were being built alongside scenes of ordinary life, everyday people, and the brownstone remnants of the past.
Bernice Abbott was born in 1898 in Springfield, Ohio, and in 1917 she attended Ohio State University. Less than a month later Abbott, disgusted with academia, left Ohio for New York. After having spent some time working in New York and pursuing sculpture, Abbott grew listless once more and eventually purchased a one-way ticket to Paris. Her sculpture career did not flourish as she had hoped, and she instead landed a job as a darkroom assistant to Man Ray. She did know not it at the time, but that moment was the beginning of her photography career.
Working long hours on her own to perfect her techniques, Abbott found herself to be a natural, and her artistic instinct with photography was second-nature. Her recognition and clientele grew rapidly, allowing her to open her own portrait studio within the next year. She had her first solo exhibition at the Jan Slivinsky Gallery, titled Portraits Photographiques. The show received stellar reviews and for the next ten years Abbott would remain in Paris.
Again seeking change, Abbott moved back to New York to find that the city had grown tremendously. She was immediately drawn to the street life of New York and felt that every aspect of it must be photographed. Before long many of her portraits and images of New York were seen in magazines like Vanity Fair, The Saturday Review of Literature, the Saturday Evening Post, Theater Guild Magazine, and Fortune.
Abbott went on to publish a book called “Better Guide to Photography” in 1941. The work is now considered a classic. In the work she provides not only technical expertise, but essays on the ideology of photography. The book remained in print until the mid-50s. Her other notable achievements include her work on a revolutionary lighting process called Projection Photography, and she invented and patented several other types photographic equipment.
Abbott retired to Maine where she produced another series of images that were featured in her book “A Portrait of Maine.” In 2000, Bernice Abbott was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, and her accomplishments are often considered to be more diverse than any other American Photographer.
Westwood Art Gallery in Westwood, New Jersey is pleased to offer the complete Portfolio IV of Berenice Abbott’s New York published by Parasol Press in 1979. Images include the Traveling Tin Shop, Church of God and the classic - Blossom Restaurant 103 Bowery.