Posts Tagged ‘Berenice Abbott New York Stock Exchange

31
May
20

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity’ at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam Part 1

Exhibition dates: 7th September – 1st December 2019

Visited September 2019 posted June 2020

Curator: Estrella de Diego, Professor of Modern Art at the Complutense University of Madrid

 

 

Berenice Abbott. 'George Antheil' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Antheil
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

George Antheil was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, author, and inventor whose modernist musical compositions explored the modern sounds – musical, industrial, and mechanical – of the early 20th century.

 

 

This was one of the most memorable photography exhibitions of my European sojourn during August – October 2019, in the most beautiful of gallery spaces. I was so very lucky to complete my time in Europe before the current pandemic arrived.

I will comment more on the exhibition in Part 2 of the posting, but suffice to say it was a real pleasure to see the work of Berenice Abbott side by side with the photographs of Eugène Atget, an artist she did much to champion (including printing his photographs). Her portraits of Atget taken in the year of his death were magnificent. They provide a portal between old and new, between the artist looking back on his work (his life), and the 20th century artist realising that they have to accommodate Atget within their future kinēsis … and in so doing, Abbott pictures an artist whose spirit possessed all of Old Paris.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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All iPhone photographs by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'George Antheil' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Antheil
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations © Getty Images/Berenice Abbott

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This autumn Huis Marseille will present a large retrospective of the famous American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). This is the first time that an extensive selection of her work, held by important American collections, will be shown in the Netherlands. Abbott is one of the key figures in the history of 20th-century photography. Her legacy is not only an eclectic photographic oeuvre but also a strong opinion on the role of photography in society, to which she gave expression in numerous publications. Her work forms a bridge linking the artistic avant-garde in the ‘Old World’ with the emerging art scene of the 1920s and 1930s in New York.

 

Modernity

The idea of modernity pervades all of Berenice Abbott’s work: from her portraits of pioneering artists and intellectuals, and her astonishing views of the city of New York, to her photos of scientific themes, documenting the results of various physics experiments. Abbott’s oeuvre also reflects her own modernism, her constant desire to be on the front line, and her exceptional talent for not just noticing the changes that were going on around her but for depicting them to striking effect. Berenice Abbott was an enthusiastic proponent of modernism in photography, and was strongly opposed to picturalism, the painterly style that dominated photography in the early 20th century. In her view a good photograph was shaped by the specific characteristics of photography itself, and not by those of painting.

 

Lost Generation

In 1918 Berenice Abbott left her birthplace Ohio and moved to New York to study sculpture, where she soon gravitated towards Greenwich Village, a hotbed of avant-garde and radical artists, bohemians, and others whose lifestyles put them outside the American mainstream. In 1921 she arrived in Paris and joined the artistic community of Montparnasse on the famous left bank of the Seine. Its writers and artists included many American expats who, disillusioned by the senseless violence of the First World War and by Prohibition in America, had taken refuge in Europe. The American writer Gertrude Stein called them the ‘lost generation’, a generation to which Abbott also belonged, which questioned traditional values and favoured an alternative kind of life. Abbott would go on to portray many of these writers, including Djuna Barnes and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

 

Portrait photographer

Abbott’s life as a photographer began in 1923, in the Parisian studio of the famous American photographer, Dadaist and Surrealist Man Ray. As his assistant she learned the technical, artistic and commercial aspects of portrait photography. In 1926, with financial support from the immensely rich American art collector Peggy Guggenheim, she opened her own Paris studio. Her clients were mostly expats, socialites, bohemians, writers, artists and the ‘new women’ who, like herself, were willing to live on the margins of society in order to be free. Many had broken ties with their origins and their gender, such as the journalist Janet Flanner, the publisher Jane Heap, and the writer Sylvia Beach. Abbott immortalised them in assertive, powerful portraits. Beach was also the publisher of James Joyce’ Ulysses (1922), a book that Abbott greatly admired, and she portrayed the writer, his wife and daughter on several occasions.

 

Eugène Atget

Through Man Ray in Paris Abbott met the photographer Eugène Atget, with whose work she felt an immediate visual and artistic affinity. For decades Atget had documented Paris in plain, unadorned images, and with a keen eye for seemingly unimportant details. After his death in 1927 Abbott looked after a large part of his oeuvre, promoting it tirelessly in America through exhibitions and books. The present exhibition therefore also includes a small selection of photos by Eugène Atget, which Abbott printed from the original negatives in 1956.

 

Changing New York

The heart of the exhibition is formed by Abbott’s photos of New York City. When she returned to New York in 1929 she felt an immediate urge to photograph the city itself, with its enormous contrasts and contradictions, a city that changed constantly and was never the same from moment to moment. In 1935 she received a substantial grant from the Federal Art Project, a government initiative that was intended to create jobs and boost the economy following the crisis years, and this allowed her to begin work in earnest. She called her project Changing New York; it was also published in book form in 1939, with texts by her partner Elizabeth McCausland. Her camera transformed New York into a living being, with an extraordinary character, which visitors can experience to this day as they move through its busy streets and stare amazed at the modern beauty of its skyscrapers. Shops, people, bridges, streets, interiors, construction sites, iconic buildings seen from outside or from above – everything comes together to create a portrait of the city.

 

Science

In the late 1930s Abbott became deeply interested in science, and saw that photography could play a role as spokesperson. The cerebral world of science needed the vitality and imaginative powers of photography to reach a wider audience. Moreover, the scientific interpretation of the world was not reserved for scientists alone; any citizen ought to be able to consider a scientific question, and photography could serve as an intermediary. With this goal in mind, for years Abbott did darkroom experiments with all kinds of camera techniques. In 1957 the Physical Science Study Committee of the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired her services to provide photographic illustrations for new and influential schoolbooks.

 

Curation

The exhibition was created in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, a Spanish non-profit organisation with which Huis Marseille has worked regularly over the last ten years – most recently in 2016 for the Stephen Shore retrospective in Huis Marseille. It was curated by Estrella de Diego, Professor of Modern Art at the Complutense University of Madrid, and has been shown in Barcelona and Madrid.

 

Loans

The exhibition comprises almost 200 vintage photographs generously loaned from the New York Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York, the International Center of Photography (NY), the George Eastman House (Rochester, NY), the Howard Greenberg Gallery (NY) and the MIT Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts), together with a selection of Abbott’s publications on loan from the Rijksmuseum library and other collections.

 

Publication

Estrella de Diego, Julia van Haaften, Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity, Madrid (Fundación Mapfre) 2019.

Text from the Huis Marseille website

 

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau' 1927 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau' 1927 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jean Cocteau (installation views)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Jean Cocteau, the author of so many memorable films and works of literature, is shown embracing a sort of mask that perhaps alludes to the repeated play of mirrors that runs through his Orphic Trilogy. He represents the kind of masculinity that Abbott renders in her portraits of homosexual activists such as André Gide and Cocteau or the ‘new men’ who had ceased to be certain of their identity – like the characters in the novels of George Bernard Shaw or Thomas Hardy – and had adopted a less monolithic masculinity. This trait can also be found in D.H. Lawrence, and in James Joyce, who sat for Abbott in 1928.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Janet Flanner in Paris' 1927 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Janet Flanner in Paris (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the exhibition 'Janet Flanner in Paris', 1927

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the exhibition Janet Flanner in Paris, 1927
Photo: Eddo Hartmann

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Janet Flanner in Paris' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Janet Flanner in Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

 

Abbott’s portraits depict some of the modern intellectuals with whom she associated in New York’s Greenwich Village following her arrival there from the native Ohio. These included people who also had links with Paris, such as the writer and journalist Janet Flanner, a personal friend of the writer Djuna Barnes. Abbott gave Flanner an ambiguous aspect; with her cropped hair and masculine dress she is another representative of the strong ‘New Women’. Abbott photographed many of these New Women who were prepared to live on the margins of society in order to safeguard their freedom.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing in the top image, the photographs of Janet Flanner (above) Eugène Atget (below)
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In 1927 Berenice Abbott produced two portraits, front-facing and in profile, of Eugène Atget, the photographer who was adored by the Surrealists and who captured the mood of late 19th-century Paris. The portraits, reminiscent of a documentary work – of police records, almost – highlight Abbott’s extraordinary skill as a portrait photographer. Atget provided the inspiration for Abbott’s wonderful portrait of New York City, Changing New York. She made generous efforts to promote the French photographer’s work, even acquiring his negatives after his death.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget
1927
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott's photographs of Eugène Atget

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott’s photographs of Eugène Atget
Photo: Eddo Hartmann

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) James Joyce, Paris 1920 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
James Joyce, Paris (installation view)
1920
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Audrey McMahon' 1925-1946 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Audrey McMahon (installation view)
1925-1946
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Audrey McMahon was the Director of the New York region of the Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1943; the region she oversaw included New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Born in New York City in 1898, she attended the Sorbonne, and she was the director of the College Art Association. …

Her approach to the administration of the Federal Art Project attempted to give the artists employed a great deal of freedom, and as she recalled later, “It is gratifying to note… that almost all of the painters, sculptors, graphic artists, and muralists who recall those days remember little or no artistic stricture.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jane Heap' 1929-1931 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jane Heap (installation view)
1929-1931
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Jane Heap (November 1, 1883 – June 18, 1964) was an American publisher and a significant figure in the development and promotion of literary modernism. Together with Margaret Anderson, her friend and business partner (who for some years was also her lover), she edited the celebrated literary magazine The Little Review, which published an extraordinary collection of modern American, English and Irish writers between 1914 and 1929. Heap herself has been called “one of the most neglected contributors to the transmission of modernism between America and Europe during the early twentieth century.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jane Heap' 1929-1931

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jane Heap
1929-1931
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam with at bottom left, Eugène Atget’s photo Eclipse, Paris 1912
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'L'éclipse' April 1912 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
L’éclipse (installation view)
April 1912
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Pendant l'éclipse' 1912

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Pendant l’éclipse
1912
Albumen print

 

 

Although the moon is not visible in this photograph by Eugène Atget, its presence and appeal are implied. The crowd gathered in Paris’s Place de la Bastille on April 17, 1912, was observing a solar eclipse through viewing apparatuses. Atget, rather than recording the astronomical event itself, turned his attention to its spectators. Though Atget made more than 8,500 pictures of Paris and its environs in a career that spanned over thirty years – most documenting the built environment – this photograph is an unusual example that focuses on a crowd of people.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the photographs of Eugène Atget with at second right Avenue des Gobelins, 1925
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Avenue des Gobelins' 1925

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Avenue des Gobelins
1925
Albumen print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Interior of a worker's room, Rue de Romainville, 19th arr.' c. 1910 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Interior of a worker’s room, Rue de Romainville, 19th arr. (installation view)
c. 1910
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.' June 1922 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr. (installation view)
June 1922
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.' June 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.
June 1922
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 13.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Rue St. Rustique' March 1922 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue St. Rustique (installation view)
March 1922
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Rue St. Rustique' March 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue St. Rustique
March 1922
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 9.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ragpicker's Hut' 1910 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ragpicker's Hut' 1910 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Ragpicker’s Hut (installation views)
1910
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street diversions (or B organ)' 1898-99

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street diversions (or B organ)
1898-99
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 16
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street Pavers (installation views)
1899-1900
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street Pavers
1899-1900
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 12
Library of Congress

 

 

Abbott saw in Eugène Atget a documentary photographer who revealed in his photographs of Paris a city frozen in time, a city that one might almost describe as antiheroic. Abbott understood that all documentary photography (and an photograph can be documentary, free from fault lines) contains a larger amount of autobiography, and Atget’s photography tells the story of a man and his camera traipsing around the city to seek out its nooks and crannies. To take a photo is to think with your eyes and with your brain. To observe is to be part of the scene.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Butcher's shop, Rue Christine' c. 1923 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Butcher’s shop, Rue Christine (installation view)
c. 1923
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Butcher's shop, Rue Christine' c. 1923

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Butcher’s shop, Rue Christine
c. 1923
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 17
Library of Congress

 

 

The surrealists were fascinated by Eugène Atget and his shifting play with Paris’s innermost structure, his phantasmagorias. In contrast with this, Abbott emphasises the documentary characteristics of Atget, at first glance a ‘realist’ photographer who captured the deserted landscapes of the city described by Albert Valentin in 1928 as “cerebral landscapes”. Atget photographed the everyday, the events in the house next door, expressing the sense of encountering the strange in the familiar and the familiar in the strange – rather like Abbott did, years later.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Mannequin (installation views)
1926-27
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Mannequin
1926-27
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 15.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Shop, Avenue des Gobelins' 1925 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Shop, Avenue des Gobelins (installation view)
1925
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Avenue des Gobelins' 1925

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Shop, Avenue des Gobelins
1925
Albumen print

 

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Bar interior, 15 Rue Boyer, 20th arr.
1900-1911
Albumen print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Aerial View of New York by Night at centre and New York Stock Exchange at centre right
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at left, Aerial View of New York by Night
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernice Abbott. 'Night View, New York City' 1932

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Aerial View of New York by Night
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

 

The changes in points of view in [the book] Changing New York – which sometimes seem like a juggling act or a pirouette, ways of seeing form above and from outside – are what convert the most emblematic or familiar places into landscape seen for the first time. And then there is the beautiful photograph of New York at night, the image that offers a full view, the one captured whole by our gaze” an exercise in light that prefigures Abbott’s later photographs on scientific themes.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing New York Stock Exchange
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'New York Stock Exchange' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
New York Stock Exchange
1933
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Washington Square, looking north' April 16, 1936 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Washington Square, looking north' April 16, 1936 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Washington Square, looking north
April 16, 1936
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1949

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'From Trinity Church Yard' March 1, 1938 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
From Trinity Church Yard (installation view)
March 1, 1938
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'John Watts statue, from Trinity Churchyard looking toward One Wall Street, Manhattan' March 1, 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
John Watts statue, from Trinity Churchyard looking toward One Wall Street, Manhattan
March 1, 1938
Gelatin silver print
Wikipedia, Public domain

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan' 1935 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan' 1935 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan (installation views)
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at bottom left, Lamport Export Company, 507-511 Broadway, Manhattan October 7, 1935; and at top right, Broadway and Thomas Street 1936
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) Broadway and Thomas Street 1936 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway and Thomas Street
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at third right, Abbott’s 5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8 March 20, 1936
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott’s 5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8 March 20, 1936
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue Houses' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Tempo of the City II, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street looking west from Seymour Building, 503 Fifth Avenue' September 6, 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Tempo of the City II, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street looking west from Seymour Building, 503 Fifth Avenue
September 6, 1938
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection
Wikipedia, Public domain

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Allen Street, No’s 55-57, Manhattan
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Huis Marseille
Keizersgracht 401
1016 EK Amsterdam
Phone: +31 20 531 89 89

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24
Apr
12

Exhibition: ‘Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Photographs’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 21st February – 29th April 2012

 

Berenice Abbott. 'New York Stock Exchange, New York City' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
New York Stock Exchange, New York City
1933
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

It is not her portraits or the road trip photographs, nor her scientific work for which Berenice Abbott will be remembered. Firstly, she will always be remembered as the person who photographed Eugene Atget in 1927 just before he died and who bought the remainder of his negatives (after the French government had bought over 2,000 in 1920 and another 2,000 had been sold after his death). She then tirelessly promoted Atget’s work helping him gain international recognition until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art in 1968. Secondly, she is remembered for her magnificent photographs of New York City and its urban environs, photographs that show the influence of Atget in their attention to detail and understanding of the placement of the camera, and imaging of old and new parts of the city (much as Atget had photographed old Paris before it was destroyed). However, these photographs are uniquely her own, with their modernist New Vision aesthetic, bold perspectives and use of deep chiaroscuro to enhance form within the photograph. Abbott’s best known project, Changing New York (1935-39) eventually consisted of 305 photographs that document the buildings of Manhattan, some of which are now destroyed. As the text on Wikipedia insightfully notes:

“Abbott’s project was primarily a sociological study imbedded within modernist aesthetic practices. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realise that their environment was a consequence of their collective behaviour (and vice versa). Moreover, she avoided the merely pretty in favour of what she described as “fantastic” contrasts between the old and the new, and chose her camera angles and lenses to create compositions that either stabilised a subject (if she approved of it), or destabilised it (if she scorned it).”

.
In the text below Gaëlle Morel observes, “Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “disappearance of the moment” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.”

While Abbott’s photographs are definitely modernist in nature I believe that today they can also be seen as deeply nostalgic, emerging as they do in the period after the Great Depression when the economy was on the move again, a peaceful time before the oncoming armageddon of the Second World War, closely followed by the fear of nuclear annihilation and the threat of communist indoctrination. They are timeless portraits of a de/reconstructed city. The images seem to float in the air, breathe in the shadows. This is the disappearance of the moment into the enigma of past, present, future – where the photograph becomes eternal, where the best work of both Atget and Abbott resides.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Treasury Building, New York City' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Treasury Building, New York City
1933
Gelatin silver print
51 x 40.5cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

Architecture

“The tempo of the city is not that of eternity, nor that of time, but that of the ephemeral. That is why recording it is so important, in both documentary and artistic terms.”

“All the photographs of New York took a long time to make, because the camera had to be carefully positioned. There is nothing fortuitous about these photographs.”

.
The exhibition features a substantial collection from Abbott’s best known project, Changing New York (1935-39). Commissioned by the Roosevelt administration as part of its response to the nationwide economic crisis, Abbott saw this piece of work as both a way of documenting the City and as a personal work of art. Eighty of the 305 photographs taken by Abbott are on show here, along with various documents providing insight into the background of this major photographic undertaking, including posters and views of the exhibition organised by the Museum of the City of New York in 1937, sketches and historical notes made by the team of journalists working with Abbott on the project, and proofs and dummies of the layout made by the photographer before she started work.

Abbott homes in on the contrasts between old and new elements in the City’s structure. Her images alternate between a New Vision aesthetic, characterised by an emphasis on details and bold perspectives, and a more documentary style that is frontal and neutral. Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “disappearance of the moment” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.

In 1938, hoping to take advantage of the fifty million visitors expected at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the publisher, E.P. Dutton, offered to bring out a selection of one hundred images from the project accompanied by a text by the renowned art critic Elizabeth McCausland, who also happened to be Abbott’s companion and staunch supporter. Going against the women’s original ideas for an art book, Dutton produced a more standard tourist guide, breaking the City down into a series of tours, from south to north and from the centre outwards. The text, too, was shorn of its poetic and pedagogical dimensions, leaving only informative entries about the buildings in the pictures.

In the exhibition, this set of architectural photographs is rounded out by a selection of pictures of vernacular architecture taken by Abbott during a journey in the southern states of the US in the 1930s and when she was travelling along Route 1 in the 1950s. Here, portraits of farmers and wooden houses alternate with pictures of streets and local events.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Triborough Bridge, East 125th Street Approach, New York City, June 29, 1937'

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Triborough Bridge, East 125th Street Approach, New York City, June 29, 1937
1937
Gelatin silver print
24.5 x 19cm
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Broadway to the Battery, New York City, May 4, 1938' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway to the Battery, New York City, May 4, 1938
1938 
Gelatin silver print
17.5 x 24cm
Museum of the City of New York
Museum Purchase with funds from the Mrs. Elon Hooker Acquisition Fund
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Flat Iron Building, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, New York City' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Flat Iron Building, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, New York City
1938
Gelatin silver print
101.5 x 76 cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

Berenice Abbott Petit Journal

With over 120 photographs, plus a selection of books and documents never shown before, this is the first exhibition in France to cover the many different facets of the American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), who is also famous for her international advocacy of Eugène Atget. She came to Paris in 1921 where she learnt her craft from Man Ray before opening her own studio and embarking on a successful career as a portraitist. Returning to New York City in 1929, she conceived what remains her best‑known project, Changing New York (1935-39). This was financed by the Works Progress Administration as part of its response to the economic crisis sweeping the country. The photographs she took in 1954 when travelling along the US East Coast on Route 1 (the exhibition presents a previously unseen selection of these images) reflect her ambition to represent the whole of what she called the “American scene.” Furthermore, in the 1950s, she also worked on a set of images for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed to illustrate the principles of mechanics and light for educational purposes.

A committed member of the avant‑garde from the early 1920s, and a staunch opponent of Pictorialism and the school of Alfred Stieglitz, Abbott spent the whole of her career exploring the limits and nature of documentary photography and photographic realism. This exhibition shows the rich array of her interests and conveys both the unity and diversity of her work.

 

Portraits

Berenice Abbott moved to New York City in the early 1920s and went about becoming a sculptor. Mixing in the bohemian circles of Greenwich Village, she met writers and artists such as Djuna Barnes, Sadakichi Hartmann and Marcel Duchamp. She also posed for Man Ray. Economic hardship at home and the allure of what then seemed the cultural Eldorado of Europe impelled several of these artists to try their luck in Paris, and Abbott herself joined this group of American expatriates in 1921.

In 1923 she became the assistant of Man Ray, who had opened a portrait studio shortly after his arrival in France in 1921. While a fair portion of the studio’s clients were American tourists, Abbott found herself at the heart of the avant-garde scene – especially that of the Surrealists. Between 1923 and 1926 she thus learnt about darkroom techniques and portrait photography while at the same time picking up a broader intellectual and artistic education. She produced her portraits in Man Ray’s studio before opening her own in 1926. Success soon followed. Her clientele was a mixture of French cultural figures and American expatriates, of bourgeois, bohemians and literary types. Her portraits were on occasion manifestly influenced by Surrealism, and more generally show an interest in masquerade, play and disguise, but sometimes even in their use of overprinting and distortion.

The female models express a kind of sexual ambiguity, notably by their masculine haircut or clothes, deliberately exuding a sense of uncertainty with regard to their identity. In composing her portraits, Abbott developed a distinctive aesthetic, far removed from the usual commercial conventions. The absence of a set, with the background usually no more than a plain wall, helped to focus on the sitter and their posture, the position of their body and their facial expression. The use of a tripod and long-focus lenses placed at eye-height allowed her to avoid distortions and thus heighten the physical presence of the models. In early 1929 Abbott left Paris for New York City. Back in America she continued with the same activities, opening a new portrait studio and taking part in exhibitions of modernist photography, while also promoting the work of Eugène Atget, having bought part of his estate in 1928.

 

New York City

In the early 1930s, Abbott set about her project for a great documentary portrait of the City of New York, but had no luck when she approached institutions such as the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Historical Society for funding. She assembled her first efforts in an album (eight pages of which are exhibited here) in order to convey the scale of her ambitious undertaking, and in 1934 exhibited her photographs of the City at the Museum of the City of New York in the hope of attracting sponsors. In 1935, support was at last forthcoming from the Federal Art Project, a programme set up to aid artists by the Works Progress Administration as part of the New Deal; she now had the support of a team of researchers who produced an information pack with text and drawings to accompany each image. Entitled Changing New York, she conceived this commission as both a vast documentary record of the City and a personal work of art. Eighty of the 305 photographs constituting this project have been selected for the exhibition. These are accompanied by documents – a poster, exhibition views, sketches and historical notes, proofs, pages from the preparatory album and original editions – that help to convey the concerns and ambitions behind this major photographic undertaking.

Abbott focused on the contrasts and links between old and new in the City’s structure. Her images alternate between a New Vision aesthetic, characterised by an emphasis on details and bold perspectives, and a more documentary style that is frontal and neutral. Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “vanishing instant” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.

The upshot of all this work was the publication of a book, Changing New York, in 1939. But there was considerable tension between the publisher, whose concerns were commercial, and the photographer, with her artistic ambitions. In 1938, hoping to take advantage of the fifty million visitors expected at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the publishing house E.P. Dutton proposed to bring out a selection of one hundred images from the project accompanied by a text from the renowned art critic Elizabeth McCausland, who also happened to be Abbott’s companion and unfailing supporter. Straying far from the project originally envisaged by the two women, Dutton changed the presentation of the photographs and produced what was a standard tourist guide, breaking the City down into a series of tours, from south to north and from the centre outwards. The text, too, was shorn of its poetic and pedagogical dimensions, leaving only information about the buildings in the pictures.

 

The “American scene”

This set of architectural images is completed by a selection of vernacular photographs. In the summer of 1935, Berenice Abbott went on a road trip down to the Southern US in order to create a portrait of a rural world in crisis. Choosing the kind of documentary style that would be the hallmark of the photographic survey launched by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) that same year, she focused on the modest wooden houses and the farmers. Driving around these states with Elizabeth McCausland, Abbott took some two hundred photographs which the two women saw as part of an ambitious photographic portrait of America in book form, although in the end this was never published. A similar fate befell Abbott’s piece on the small towns and villages along Route 1, which she travelled in 1954. Covering approximately 6,500  kilometres as she followed this road along the East Coast of the US, she took some 2,400 photographs, taking in stalls, shops, portraits of farmers, diners and bars and dance halls. Her photography alternated between the documentary aesthetic and Street Photography. With Route 1, Abbott continued to pursue her ambition of representing the whole of the “American scene.”

 

Science

Abbott started photographing scientific phenomena in 1939. In 1944 she was recruited by the journal Science Illustrated, where she published some of her own pictures, as head of its photography department. Abbott took a committed, pedagogical approach, seeing her images as a vital bridge between modern science and the general public. In 1957, as a result of the anxiety about national science stirred by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik into outer space, at the height of the Cold War, the National Science Foundation set up a Physical Science Study Committee at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its role was to develop new textbooks for the teaching of science in schools and to use innovative photographs to illustrate the principles of quantum mechanics. Abbott was hired by MIT to produce photographs for the popularisation and teaching of the sciences. Using abstract forms to visually express complex mechanical concepts and invisible mechanical laws, she used black grounds to reveal principles such as gravity and light waves. The exhibition features a score of Abbott’s scientific and experimental images, as well as some of the books for which they were used. Harking back to the experiments of the avant-gardes, and in particular the Rayogram technique, she was able to produce visually attractive and surprising images that were also rich in discovery, thus combining documentary information with a sense of wonder.”

Text by Gaëlle Morel, curator of the exhibition, on the Jeu de Paume website

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, New York City, October 24, 1935' 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, New York City, October 24, 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Sunoco Station, Trenton, New Jersey' 1954

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Sunoco Station, Trenton, New Jersey
1954
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters, 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street, New York City, February 4, 1937' 1937

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters, 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street, New York City, February 4, 1937
1937 
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Happy's Refreshment Stand, Daytona Beach, Florida' 1954

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Happy’s Refreshment Stand, Daytona Beach, Florida
1954
Gelatin silver print
29.5 x 28cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Miner, Greenview, West Virginia' 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Miner, Greenview, West Virginia
1935
Gelatin silver print
25 x 19 cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

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métro Concorde
Phone: 01 47 03 12 50

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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