Friday, July 20, 2007

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)

Sierra Club


Some people are still unaware that reality contains unparalleled beauties. The fantastic and unexpected, the ever-changing and renewing is nowhere so exemplified as in real life itself.


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American Photographer, born in Springfield, Ohio. She developed "straight" photography, that is, using no special effects. She photographed many of the celebrated literary and artistic figures of the day.

"I didn't decide to be a photographer; I just happened to fall into it," Berenice Abbott once recalled. In 1917 Abbott went from her hometown of Springfield, Ohio, to Columbia University, intending to study journalism. Disappointed by her courses, Abbott soon switched to sculpture, which she studied in New York, Berlin, and Paris. It was only in Paris in 1923, when the avant-garde American expatriate Man Ray was looking for a darkroom assistant, that Abbott discovered her love and natural ability for working with the camera. She began taking portrait photographs and in 1926 opened her own studio. Abbott had the first of many one-woman exhibitions that same year.

During the 1920s Abbott became "the semiofficial portraitist of the intelligentsia" in Paris and New York. Her straightforward, detailed, powerful images of such luminaries as James Joyce, Andre Gide, and Peggy Guggenheim made her famous. In the 1930s, Abbott continued her portrait work while completing a 10-year project commissioned by the Works Progress Administration: documenting the changing landscape of New York City.

Remarkably prolific, Abbott produced numerous books and several other ambitious series, notably images demonstrating various physical laws of nature and a photo essay on U.S. Route 1. When she began her career, photography was not considered a serious art form and women were not regarded as serious artists. Berenice Abbott overcame these and many other obstacles during her illustrious 60-year career. She also invented new photographic equipment and techniques, received several honorary doctorates, and was the subject of many retrospective exhibitions. Abbott died at age 93 in rural Maine, where she had been living since 1965. [Adapted from National Museum of Women in the Arts]

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