Berenice Abbott

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Jul 27, 2005.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I just finished reading "Berenice Abbott, Photographe Américaine" not long ago and I was struck by the extent of her talents, the fact that many of her pictures are famous (that of James Joyce comes to mind), that she singlehandedly managed to salvage Atget, but also the feeling that she is still being utterly ignored as a major artist. I'll admit that I'm rather fresh to photography, so I ignore more than what many of you have forgotten, but in comparison the Stieglitz/Adams/Weston/Strand school of straight photography seems to be much more central to many photographers.

    Abbott was one of the few at the time to stand up against their artistic vision and call them "superpictorialists". I see that as creating a profound chasm between the two worlds, and perhaps something that led to her marginalization. Many APUGgers cite the Stieglitz-centered school, but I've seen only one thread mention Abbott so far.

    So what do you think of her?
     
  2. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Sorry, I never heard of her before you mentioned it. I did a google lookup on her. Her images seem pretty straight forward from what I've seen. I really enjoy looking at historical images, wondering about the people in them. Not the kind of photography that drives my passion, but enjoyable to look at anyway.
     
  3. RichSBV

    RichSBV Member

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    Abbot is one of my favorite photographers and VERY underated. Take a look at "Changing New York" and "New York in the Thirties", along with Levere's reshoot in "New York Changing".

    She had a strong will and a good photo vision. She wrote many books. One of my favorites is "The View Camera Made Simple" published around 1948. Shows a little insight to her thinking.

    Like any photographer, she might not be for everyone. But not only look at her work, but look at it in view of the 1930's when she did most of it...
     
  4. Bill Hahn

    Bill Hahn Member

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    RichSBV beat me to it....I have "Changing New York" and can recommend it to anyone.
     
  5. RichSBV

    RichSBV Member

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    It really is a coincidence that I shoot with an 8x10 Century Universal and some Dagors...

    Really, just a conincidence... ;-)
     
  6. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Depends on what she did, but she was a documentary photographer at heart. Her two most important published body of work are Changing New York and the scientific photographs she took for a Physics manual. Doesn't seem much, but if you look into older physics books, a lot of pictures explaining movement, gravity, magnetism, &c may be from her. In fact they look so common now that we are forgetting that they were done in the first place, for e.g.:
     

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  7. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    BTW, anyone ever read her Guide to Better Photography? I'm curious to see how the non-anselmites teach it...
     
  8. Steve Sherman

    Steve Sherman Subscriber

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    Douglas Levere will give a gallery talk and show some originals detailing his New York Changing Book Project which replicates the vantage point which Berenice Abbott used during the 1930's for her New York Project.

    Gallery talk is sponsored by the New England Large Format Photography Collective and will take place at the Kehler Liddell Gallery on October 2nd from 1-5 PM in New Haven, Connecticut. For more information contact NELFPC@steve-sherman.com
     
  9. RichSBV

    RichSBV Member

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    I have the original 1941 edition and the revised 1953 edition. The updates were mostly for equipment...

    They're great books. I like the 1941 edition more myself ;-)

    Buy they're also more beginner books. If you know nothing about photography, they'll get you to a point of taking, processing and printing photographs. No zone system ;-) As I remember, a good read and insight into past times. Also filled with great pictures as examples.

    She used the system of "Expose for the shadows, develop for the high lights". I don't know if she coined it, but it's there in print in 1941, along with +_ development.

    Like everything else, open to opinion...

    Abbott seemed simply thrilled and excited by photography. One of the reasons she got tied up with the scientific shots as nothing like that was ever done before. She spearheaded many new techniques and perhaps ruined her art career because of it. She had a genuine love of the art and wanted to pass it on to everyone.

    I may be wrong, but I think she also did a project of portraits. It's possible I'm thinking of someone else as I can't find a reference to it now... Her portrait work was fantastic as far as I'm concerned. Even though she inhaled new ideas and techniques, she seemed to never have let go of the older ways to make a nice mix.

    Maybe I like her because her love of photography just comes through her work and writings? Maybe it's just the Century Universal ;-) Maybe I like the thirties? Maybe I just like Abbott....
     
  10. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Does she go into some sort of systematic exposure/dev/print practice, or is she rather exhorting people to get the hell out of here and go take pics?

    I know she also spent a huge amount of her time trying to setup Atget exhibits and gain him some recognition. The flipside of it may be that he is in fact more influential and known than her. Reminds me of Ezra Pound, who brought to fame luminaries like TS Eliot of Joyce, but had little time left for himself and his work; he even considered his Cantos as "botched work". Incidentally, he is of the same generation, and also was an american expat in Paris, and they knew the same people.

    She has done a substantial amount of portraiture work in her time in Paris (between the wars, I think). She was the assistant of Man Ray at first, then outgrew him, which pissed him off as you would expect. She set up her own portrait studio, where the pictures of Joyce & Nora, Edna St Vincent Millay, Sylvia Beach, Jean Cocteau, François Mauriac, etc etc, were taken. There's quite a good amount of modernist countesses and garçonnes around as well.

    Maybe I like her because Joyce liked her :wink:
     
  11. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    She was very much a complete photographer. Advocate for Atget, teacher, architecture, protraiture, still, and science photography. Very much in the same class as Andreas Feininger whose work was very wide ranging. She was more about documentation than art and from what I gather from an old (80s) interview in American Photographer she could be difficult to work with. Uncompromising seems to be a good word to use to describe her, which probably did not endear her to a male dominated publishing industry during most of her career.
     
  12. polaski

    polaski Member

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    For something completely different ...

    See her self-portrait in The Camera I.
     
  13. Justin Cormack

    Justin Cormack Member

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    I have only seen a few of her pictures, which I did like. Her prints of Atget's negatives seem disappointing though (although I have only seen them in reproduction) - too contrasty as she insisted on using silver gelatine paper when the negs are too contrasty.