Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography

Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography

by Julia Van Haaften


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The comprehensive biography of the iconic twentieth-century American photographer Berenice Abbott, a trailblazing documentary modernist, author, and inventor.

Berenice Abbott is to American photography as Georgia O’Keeffe is to painting or Willa Cather to letters. She was a photographer of astounding innovation and artistry, a pioneer in both her personal and professional life. Abbott’s sixty-year career established her not only as a master of American photography, but also as a teacher, writer, archivist, and inventor. Famously reticent in public, Abbott’s fascinating life has long remained a mystery—until now.

In Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography, author, archivist, and curator Julia Van Haaften brings this iconic public figure to life alongside outlandish, familiar characters from artist Man Ray to cybernetics founder Norbert Wiener. A teenage rebel from Ohio, Abbott escaped first to Greenwich Village and then to Paris—photographing, in Sylvia Beach’s words, "everyone who was anyone." As the Roaring Twenties ended, Abbott returned to New York, where she soon fell in love with art critic Elizabeth McCausland, with whom she would spend thirty years.

In the 1930s, Abbott began her best-known work, Changing New York, in which she fearlessly documented the city’s metamorphosis. When warned by an older male supervisor that "nice girls" avoid the Bowery—then Manhattan’s skid row—Abbott shot back, "I’m not a nice girl. I’m a photographer…I go anywhere." This bold, feminist attitude would characterize all Abbott’s accomplishments, including imaging techniques she invented in her influential, space race–era science photography and her tenure as The New School’s first photography teacher.

With more than ninety stunning photos, this sweeping, cinematic biography secures Berenice Abbott’s place in the histories of photography and modern art, while framing her incredible accomplishments as a female artist and entrepreneur.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393292787
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/10/2018
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 349,938
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Julia Van Haaften was founding curator of the New York Public
Library’s photography collection in 1980, and was instrumental in furthering digital initiatives at the library and the Museum of the City of New York. She lives in New York.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

1 Big Lie All My Life 1

2 Center of Everything 16

3 Blazing Chisels 43

4 Why Not Me? 68

5 Sexless Bird Catcher 83

6 Shock of Recognition 109

7 No Scruples 126

8 Realizing New York 158

9 Realizing America 180

10 Fantastic Passion 192

11 Creative Documentary 211

12 Friendly Interpreter 241

13 Photography Community 268

14 House of Photography 292

15 Photo League 303

16 It has to Walk Alone 321

17 Little Old America 334

18 PSSC 347

19 Elizabeth 372

20 Sell Atget! 396

21 Hotcakes 422

22 Barrelhouse Girl 441

23 Epilogue 475

Acknowledgments 488

Notes 493

Bibliography 605

Credits 608

Index 611

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