Berenice Abbott

I am given to believe that writing blogs is all about being up to date and all that.  This is a short one about an exhibition that I visited a couple of months ago and has now finished.  I know.  Sometimes I am too helpful.

Berenice Abbot was an American photographer who learned her trade from the legendary Man Ray in 1920’s Paris.  She knew and photographed such people as Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, André Gide, Max Ernst and James Joyce.  Some things are beyond cool.  If you were photographed by either her or Man Ray, then this was pretty much recognition that you had made it.

Cocteau with Gun, Paris, 1926

Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), New York, 1944–45

After her time in Paris, she returned to New York where she won a contract to photograph the changing city as it modernised.  These are classic pictures of New York, and perhaps some of the ones that really began to create the images of the city in global popular culture.

Floating Oyster Houses, South Street and Pike Slip, New York, 1931-32

Looking Down on Midtown, New York, 1933

Nightview, New York, 1932

I knew and recognised some of her naturalist photographs.  Her photographs are beautifully assembled and structured although she was always keen that her photographs and images were not tampered or altered by any further processing.  What she would have made of Photoshop is anyone’s guess.  The one aspect of her work that I recognised immediately but had not associated with her, are the images to represent various scientific laws and processes taken for the MIT.  These images and those like them were familiar to me, even though I went to school twenty and thirty years after they were taken.

Bouncing Ball Time Exposure, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958–61

Interference Pattern, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958–61

Magnetism with Key, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958–61

The exhibition was at the Jeu de Paume and you’ve probably missed it


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