Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)
"Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term - selectivity."
Berenice Abbott almost began her early career as a sculptor, leaving her native New York for Paris in 1918 to polish her craft there. Quickly, however, Abbott abandoned her attempts to become a sculptor and pursued a career as a professional photographer. Working under famed photographer Man Ray, she developed the careful eye for light, natural form, and steady realism and precision which would become the trademarks of her career.
In Paris, Abbott came in contact with the work of Eugene Atget, who documented the streets, houses and buildings of Old Paris. Taking a cue from Atget, Abbott returned to New York and turned her careful eye towards documenting the ever evolving cityscape of New York. Her project, titled "Changing New York," earned support from the Works Project Administration of the Federal Art Project (WPA) in 1935, and selections were eventually published in a book in 1939.
Abbott soon turned to a number of subjects beyond New York. In the 1950s, for instance, Abbott focused on gaining an understanding of how scientific principles could be captured on film, a project which earned her an exhibition and spawned three textbooks.
Later in her career, Abbott began photographing the historic Route 1, beginning in Maine and ending in Florida. It was during this project that Abbott fell in love with Maine, the state to which she subsequently relocated.
Works Consulted: The Encyclopedia of Photography, 1984. [website]