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Exhibiting November 3, 2004 - January 29, 2005

(American, 1898-1991)

Nightview, New York 1932

“The challenge for me has first been to see things as they are, whether a portrait, a city street, or a bouncing ball. In a word, I have tried to be objective. What I mean by objectivity is not the objectivity of a machine, but of a sensible human being with the mystery of personal selection at the heart of it. The second challenge has been to impose order onto the things seen and to supply the visual context and the intellectual framework - that to me is the art of photography.”

You can read more about Berenice Abbott below, or go straight to the image gallery.

To find out more about this artist please contact katestevens@hackelbury.co.uk

"I didn't decide to be a photographer; I just happened to fall into it," Berenice Abbott once recalled. She grew up in Ohio, but whilst studying sculpture in Paris she found that the avant-garde American expatriate Man Ray was looking for a darkroom assistant. Through him Abbott discovered her love and natural ability for working with the camera; she began taking portrait photographs and in 1926 opened her own studio. She had the first of many one-woman exhibitions that same year.

While in Paris Abbott became interested in the work of the French photographer Eugène Atget. A pioneer of historic documentation, Atget devoted a large part of his life to recording the changing life and architecture of Paris through carefully composed photographs. After his death Abbott bought Atget's collection of ten thousand glass plates and prints, subsequently launching a campaign to preserve his work. Atget also provided Abbott with the inspiration for her next project: the documentation of New York in the 1930s.

Abbott championed "straight" photography, that is, using no special effects. She argued that, by the very nature of its realistic image, photography was documentary and, as such, found its best expression in clearly focused, highly detailed images. Abbott maintained that this relatively new art form could never grow up if it imitated other media. When she returned to New York, Abbott was struck by an environment in transition, where she observed "the present jostling with the past." Her determination to document what she saw eventually resulted in the publication Changing New York (1939), funded by the Federal Art Project. This project remains the centerpiece of her career.

Remarkably prolific, Abbott produced numerous books and several other ambitious series, notably images demonstrating various physical laws of nature and a photo essay on U.S. Route 1. When she began her career, photography was not considered a serious art form and women were not regarded as serious artists. Berenice Abbott overcame these and many other obstacles during her illustrious 60-year career. She also invented new photographic equipment and techniques, received several honorary doctorates, and was the subject of many retrospective exhibitions.

Abbott died at age 93 in rural Maine, where she had been living since 1965.


The photographs of Berenice Abbott have been included in major exhibitions in The Museum of Modern Art, New York, International Center of Photography, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York Public Library in New York; The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; San Francisco Museum of Art, California; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and The Heckscher Museum, Huntington, New York.

Abbott's works are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Art, California; and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

If you enjoy the work of this artist, you should also look at images of New York from Elliott Erwitt & William Klein

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© 2004 Hackelbury Fine Art, Ltd. Copyright for all images is held by the respective artist or estate and they may not be reproduced in any form without express premission. All rights reserved.