Posts Tagged ‘Changing New York

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

Opening hours
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Huis Marseille website

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16
May
20

European photographic research tour: V&A Photography Centre, London

Visited October 2019 posted May 2020

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A' 1917

 

Unknown photographer
Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A (installation view)
1917
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The older I grow, the more exponentially I appreciate and love these early photographs. Imagine having a collection like this!

Wonderful to see Edward Steichen’s Portrait – Lady H (1908, below) as I have a copy of Camera Work 22 in my collection.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

 

The V&A has been collecting photographs since 1856, the year the Museum was founded, and it was one of the first museums to present photography exhibitions. Since then the collection has grown to be one of the largest and most important in the world, comprising around 500,000 images. The V&A is now honoured to have added the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection to its holdings, which contains around 270,000 photographs, an extensive library, and 6,000 cameras and pieces of equipment associated with leading artists and photographic pioneers.

Take a behind-the-scenes look at our world class photography collection following the transfer of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection, which has enabled a dramatic reimagining of the way photography is presented at the V&A. The photographs curators introduce a series of five highlights that are on display in the new Photography Centre, which opened on 12th October 2018. The first phase of the centre will more than double the space dedicated to photography at the Museum.

Text from the V&A and YouTube websites

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A' 1917

 

Unknown photographer
Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A (installation view)
1917
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The V&A has been collecting and exhibiting photographs since the 1850s. This image shows part o a photographic exhibition held over 100 years ago in the same galleries you are standing in today. The exhibition presented a densely packed display of images depicting the Allied Powers during the First World War.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833)
Christ Carrying his Cross (installation views)
1827
Heliograph on pewter plate
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The French inventor Niépce made the earliest surviving photographic images, which he called ‘heliographs’ or ‘sun-writing’. Only 16 are thought to still exist. Although Niépce experimented with light-sensitive plates inside a camera, he made most of his images, including this one, by placing engravings of works by other artists directly onto a metal plate. He would probably have had the resulting heliographs coated in ink and printed.

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833)
Christ Carrying his Cross (installation view)
1827
Heliograph on pewter plate
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-70) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-48) 'The Adamson Family' 1843-45

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-70) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-48)
The Adamson Family (installation view)
1843-45
Salted paper print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The partnership between Scottish painter Hill and chemist Adamson merged the art and science of photography. The pair initially intended to create preliminary studies for Hill’s paintings, but soon recognised photography’s artistic potential. With Hill’s knowledge of composition and lighting, and Adamson’s considerable sensitivity and dexterity in handling the camera, together they produced some of the most accomplished photographic portraits of their time.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-77) 'The Haystack' 1844

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-77)
The Haystack
1844
From The Pencil of Nature
Salted paper print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94)
Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap (installation views)
1852-54
Albumen print; Calotype negative
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Turner took out a licence to practice ‘calotype’ photography from Talbot in 1848. He contact-printed positive images from paper negatives. The negative (below) and its corresponding positive (above) are reunited here to illustrate this process, but the pairing as you see them would not have been the photographer’s original intention for display. Although unique negatives were sometimes exhibited in their own right, only showing positive prints was the norm.

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94)
Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap (installation view)
1852-54
Albumen print; Calotype negative
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Road to Chailly, Forest of Fontainebleau' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Road to Chailly, Forest of Fontainebleau (installation view)
1852
Albumen print from a collodion glass negative
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris (installation view)
1852
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris (installation view)
1852
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Fenton was one of the most versatile and technically brilliant photographers of the 19th century. He excelled at many subjects, including war photography, portraiture, architecture and landscape. He also made a series of lush still lives. Here, grapes, plums and peaches are rendered in exquisite detail, and the silver cup on the right reflects a camera tripod.

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860 (detail)

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view detail)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Still Life with Fruit and Decanter' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Still Life with Fruit and Decanter
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75) 'Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger' c. 1856

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75)
Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger (installation view)
c. 1856
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Rejlander probably intended this photograph to be part of a larger composition telling the biblical story of Salome, in which the severed head of John the Baptist was presented to her on a plate. Rejlander never made the full picture, however, and instead produced multiple prints of the head alone.

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75) 'Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger' c. 1856

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75)
Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger (installation view)
c. 1856
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'Th', from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith (installation view)
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Frith’s photographs were popular and circulated widely, both because of their architectural interest and because they often featured sites mentioned in the Bible. Photographs of places described in biblical stories brought a new level of realism to a Christian Victorian audience, previously only available through the interpretations of a painter or illustrator.

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'Th', from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith (installation view)
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith' 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean' 1856-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean (installation view)
1856-59
Albumen Print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean' 1856-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean
1856-59
Albumen Print
Art Institute of Chicago
Creative Commons Zero (CC0)

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre (installation view)
1856-57
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre (installation view)
1856-57
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre
1856-57
Albumen print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris' 1857-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris (installation view)
1857-59
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris' 1857-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris (installation view)
1857-59
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea (installation view)
1855
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea (installation view)
1855
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Lucia' 1864-65

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Lucia (installation view)
1864-65
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (On Duty)' and 'Tea Merchant (Off Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (On Duty) and Tea Merchant (Off Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Lewis Carroll is best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he was also an accomplished amateur photographer. Approximately half of his photographs are portraits of children, sometimes wearing foreign costumes or acting out scenes. Here, Alexandra ‘Xie’ Kitchen, his most frequent child sitter, poses in Chinese dress on a stack of tea chests.

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (On Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (On Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (Off Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (Off Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Pomona' 1887

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Pomona (installation view)
1887
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The South Kensington museum (now the V&A) was the only museum to collect and exhibit Julia Margaret Cameron’s during her lifetime. This is one of several studies she made of Alice Liddell, who as a child had modelled for the author and photographer Lewis Carroll and inspired his novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Cameron, Carroll and Liddell moved in overlapping artistic and intellectual circles. Here, surrounded by foliage, a grown-up Alice poses as the Roman goddess of orchards and gardens.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Pomona' 1887

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Pomona (installation view)
1887
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Frederick Holland Day' 1900

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Frederick Holland Day (installation view)
1900
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The British-American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic. Active in the early 20th century, he gained recognition from a young age as a talented photographer. His style ranged from the painterly softness of Pictorialism to the unusual vantage points and abstraction of Modernism. As well as being a practising photographer, Coburn was an avid collector. In 1930 he donated over 600 photographs to the Royal Photographic Society. The gift included examples of Coburn’s own work alongside that of his contemporaries, many of whom are now considered to be the most influential of their generation. Coburn also collected historic photographs, and was among the first in his time to rediscover and appreciate the work of 19th-century masters like Julia Margaret Cameron and Hill and Adamson.

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Day made this portrait when he visited the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which was founded after the American Civil War as a teacher-training school for freed slaves. The institute’s camera club invited Day to visit the school and critique the work of its students. Day’s friend and fellow photographer, Frederick Evans, donated this strikingly modern composition to the Royal Photographic Society in 1937.

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934) 'The Letter' 1906

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934)
The Letter
1906
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Käsebier studied painting before opening a photography studio in New York. Her Pictorialist photographs often combine soft focus with experimental printing techniques. These sisters were dressed in historic costume for a ball, but their pose transforms a society portrait into a narrative picture. In a variant image, they turn to look at the framed silhouette on the wall.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Francis James Mortimer (British, 1874-1944) 'Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Opening of His One-Man Exhibition the Royal Photographic Society, London' 1906

 

Francis James Mortimer (British, 1874-1944)
Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Opening of His One-Man Exhibition the Royal Photographic Society, London (installation view)
1906
Carbon print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Annie Wardrope Brigman (American, 1869-1950) 'The Spirit of Photography' c. 1908

 

Annie Wardrope Brigman (American, 1869-1950)
The Spirit of Photography
c. 1908
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Kensington Gardens' 1910

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Kensington Gardens
1910
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Cover of 'Camera Work'

 

Cover of Camera Work Number XXVI (installation view)

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Portrait – Lady H' 1908

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Portrait – Lady H (installation view)
1908
Camera Work 22
1908
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Portrait – Lady H' 1908

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Portrait – Lady H
1908
Camera Work 22
1908
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'New York' 1916

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
New York (installation view)
1916
Camera Work 48
1916
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) was an American photographer, publisher, writer and gallery owner. From 1903-1917, he published the quarterly journal Camera Work, which featured portfolios of exquisitely printed photogravures (a type of photograph printed in ink), alongside essays and reviews. Camera Work promoted photography as an art form, publishing the work of Pictorialist photographers who drew inspiration from painting, and reproducing 19th-century photographs. It also helped to introduce modern art to American audiences, including works by radical European painters such as Matisse and Picasso.

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1917

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Vortograph (installation view)
1917
Bromide print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz (American, 1884-1936)
Bewegungsstudie (Movement Study)
1926
Carbon print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Koppitz was a leading art photographer in Vienna between the two World Wars, as well as a master of complex printing processes, including the pigment, gum and broccoli process of transfer printing. Tis dynamic and sensual composition captures dancers from the Vienna State Opera Ballet frozen mid-movement.

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85) 'Shortly Before Dawn' 1932-39

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85)
Shortly Before Dawn (installation view)
1932-39
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Bayer had a varied and influential career as a designer, painter, photographer, sculptor, art director and architect. He taught at the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, and later began to use photomontage, both in his artistic and advertising work. Using this process, he combined his photographs with found imagery, producing surreal or dreamlike pictures.

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85) 'Shortly Before Dawn' 1932-39

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85)
Shortly Before Dawn (installation view)
1932-39
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951) 'Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam' 1934

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951)
Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam (installation view)
1934
Foto-choma Eilers
Given by Joan Luckhurst Eilers

 

 

In the 1930s, the Dutch photographer Bernard Eilers developed an experimental new photographic colour separation process known as ‘Foto-chroma Eilers’. Although the process was short-lived, Eilers successfully used this technique to produce prints like this of great intensity and depth of colour. Here, the misty reflections and neon lights create an atmospheric but modern view of a rain-soaked Amsterdam at night.

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951) 'Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam' 1934

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951)
Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam (installation view)
1934
Foto-choma Eilers
Given by Joan Luckhurst Eilers

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Valentine to Charis' 1935

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Valentine to Charis (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

When Weston met the model and writer Charis Wilson in 1934, he was immediately besotted. This valentine to her contains a cluster of objects arranged as a still life, including the photographer’s camera lens and spectacles. Some of the objects seem to hold a special significance that only the lovers could understand. The numbers on the right possibly refer to their ages – there were almost thirty years between them.

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999) 'Portrait of Gabrielle ('Coco') Chanel' 1937

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Portrait of Gabrielle (‘Coco’) Chanel
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

Variant, American Vogue, 1 December 1937, p. 86: ‘Fashion: Mid-Season Prophecies’

Caption reads: Chanel in her fitted, three-quarters coat / Mademoiselle Chanel, in one of her new coats that are making the news – a three quarters coat buttoned tightly and trimmed with astrakham like her cap. 01/12/1937

 

Nickolas Muray (American, 1892-1965) 'Women with headscarf, 'McCall’s' Cover, July 1938' 1938

 

Nickolas Muray (American, 1892-1965)
Women with headscarf, McCall’s Cover, July 1938 (installation view)
1938
Tricolour carbro print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Between 1935 and 1939, the Federal Art Project emptied Abbott to make a series of photographs entitled Changing New York, documenting the rapid development and urban transformation of the city. This picture shows the facade of a downtown hardware store, its wares arranged in a densely-packed window display with extend onto the pavement.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photographs of African masks, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photographs of African masks, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

In 1935, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Evans to photograph objects in its major exhibition of African art. Using his 8 x 10 inch view camera, he highlighted the artistry and detail of the objects, alternating between front, side and rear views. In total, Evans produced 477 images, and 17 complete sets of them were printed. Several of these sets were donated to colleges and libraries in America, and the V&A bought one set in 1936 to better represent African art in its collection.

The term ‘negro’ is given here in its original historical context.

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83) 'Dubuffet’s Right Eye, Alberto Giacometti’s Left Eye, Louise Nevelson’s Eye, Max Ernst’s Left Eye' 1960-63

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83)
Dubuffet’s Right Eye
Alberto Giacometti’s Left Eye
Louise Nevelson’s Eye
Max Ernst’s Left Eye (installation view)
1960-63
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83) 'Dubuffet’s Right Eye' 1960-63

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83)
Dubuffet’s Right Eye (installation view)
1960-63
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

German-born Brandt moved to London in the 1930s. In his long and varied career, he made many compelling portraits of people including Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, the Sitwell family, Robert Graves and E.M. Forster. For this series he photographed the eyes of well-known artists over several years, creating a substantial collection of intense and unique portraits. The pictures play upon ideas of artistic vision and the camera lens, which acts as a photographer’s ‘mechanical eye’.

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976) 'Simple Still Life, Egg' 1950

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Simple Still Life, Egg (installation view)
1950
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Throughout his career, Sudek used various photographic styles but always conveyed an intensely lyrical vision of the world. Here, his formal approach to a simple still life presents a poetic statement, and evokes an atmosphere of contemplation. Sudek’s motto and advice to his students – ‘hurry slowly’ – encapsulates his legendary patience and the sense of meditative stillness in his photographs.

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78) 'Luminogram' 1952

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78)
Luminogram (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78) 'Luminogram' 1952

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78)
Luminogram (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation views)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

 

Known for his dynamic street photography, Cohen’s work presents a fragmented, sensory image of his hometown of Wiles-Barre, Pennsylvania. This set of pictures was taken at a time when colour photography was just beginning to be recognised as a fine art. Until the 1970s, colour had largely been associated with other advertising or family snapshots, and was not thought of as a legitimate medium for artists. Cohen and other photographers like William Eggleston transferred this perception using the dye-transfer printing process. Although complicated and time-consuming, the technique results in vibrant and high quality colour prints.

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation view detail)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation view detail)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

Graham Smith (British, b. 1947) 'What she wanted & who she got' 1982

 

Graham Smith (British, b. 1947)
What she wanted & who she got (installation view)
1982
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Since the 1980s, Graham Smith has been photographing his hometown of South Bank near Middlesbrough. His images convey his deep sensitivity towards the effects of changing working conditions on the former industrial north-east. In this photograph, despite the suggested humour of the title, we are left wondering who the couple are and what the nature of their relationship might be.

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968) 'Spomenik #3' 2006

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968)
Spomenik #3
2006
C-type print

The Kosmaj monument in Serbia is dedicated to soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan detachment from World War II.

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968) 'Spomenik #4' 2007

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968)
Spomenik #4
2007
C-type print

This monument, authored by sculptor Miodrag Živković, commemorates the Battle of Sutjeska, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

Kempenaers toured the balkans photographing ’Spomeniks’ – monuments built in former Yugoslavia in the 1960s and ’70s on the sites of Second World War battles and concentration camps. Some have been vandalised in outpourings of anger against the former regime, while others are well maintained. In Kempenaers’ photographs, the monuments appear otherworldly, as if dropped from outer space into a pristine landscape.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

 

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Phone: +44 (0)20 7942 2000

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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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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.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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