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Berenice Abbott

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Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) was an American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography of New York City architecture and urban design of the 1930s.

She was born in Springford, Ohio, in 1898. After graduating from Ohio State University she moved to New York to study journalism, but eventually decided on sculpture and painting.

In 1921 she moved to Paris to study with sculptor Emile Bourdelle. In Paris she became an assistant to Man Ray and Eugène Atget. In 1925, Abbott set up her own studio and made portraits of Parisian expatriates, artists, writers, and collectors. Her first exhibition was held at the Au Sacre du Printemps Gallery in 1926.

Abbott returned to the United States in 1929 and embarked on a project to photograph New York. She photographed New York’s neighborhoods for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and its Federal Art Project, documenting its changing architecture; many of the photographs were published in Changing New York (1939).

Abbott was part of the straight photography movement, which stressed the importance of photographs being unmanipulated in both subject matter and developing processes. Throughout her career, Abbott’s photography was very much a display of the rise in development in technology and society. Her works documented and praised the New York landscape. This was all guided by her belief that a modern day invention such as the camera deserved to document the 20th century.

Abbott’s photographs of New York appeared in the exhibition, Changing New York, at the Museum of the City in 1937. A book, Changing New York, was published in 1939. She is also published in a Guide to Better Photography (1941). Her last book was A Portrait of Maine (1968). Berenice Abbott died in Monson, Maine, in 1991.