In January 1929, after eight years in Europe, the American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) boarded an ocean liner to New York City for what was meant to be a short visit. Upon arrival, she found the city transformed and ripe with photographic potential. “When I saw New York again, and stood in the dirty slush, I felt that here was the thing I had been wanting to do all my life,” she recalled. With a handheld camera, Abbott traversed the city, photographing its skyscrapers, bridges, elevated trains, and neighborhood street life. She pasted these “tiny photographic notes” into a standard black-page album, arranging them by subject and locale.
Consisting of 266 small black-and-white prints arranged on thirty-two pages, Abbott’s New York album marks a key turning point in her career—from her portrait work in Paris to the urban documentation that culminated in her federally funded project, Changing New York (1935–39). Berenice Abbott’s New York Album, 1929 presents a selection of unbound pages from this unique album, shedding new light on the creative process of one of the great photographic artists of the twentieth century. For context, the exhibition also features views of Paris by Eugène Atget (French, 1857–1927), whose extensive photographic archive Abbott purchased and publicized; views of New York City by her contemporaries Walker Evans, Paul Grotz, and Margaret Bourke-White; and photographs from Changing New York.
The exhibition is made possible by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.
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New research charts the photographer’s many excursions across Manhattan in 1929.
“The only pleasure you can get from creating something is the pleasure you have in doing it, not the final product even,” the photographer Berenice Abbott once said of her work.