When I began my life in photography there was no internet to show me how, but there were at least a half-dozen photography magazines, most of which I consumed with a ravenous appetite. Although there is now a million times more to look at on the web, it still doesn’t compare with those monthly ever-faithful and self-renewing publications. The Popular Photography and Modern Photography would lie around my apartment for months on end, piling up and growing more and more ragged as I perused them again and again. They indeed were a big part of my education.
Through them I learned about other photographers, both those of nowadays and of yesteryear. One of them who was often mentioned with praise and reverence was Berenice Abbott. When I search on the Internet now for her work, I’m rewarded with scores of images I had never seen before.
And now it’s time you saw some of them too!
Abbott became a photographer in the between the wars Paris , a time that is legendary for the life found there by artists, bohemians, and the wealthy of every stripe. After dropping out of Columbia University in New York City after just a couple of weeks, she boarded a ship to Paris on the advice of another famous photographer, Man Ray, who offered her a job in his studio in the City of Light. She thought she was a sculptor but when she would take her camera out with her on her lunch breaks to take portraits of any willing friends she discovered she had a talent for photography she hadn’t suspected. Eventually, she thought “Why not charge money for my work?” Why not, indeed!
Young Peggy Guggenheim loaned her the money to open up her studio and then probably drove a lot of good work her way. (Yes, that Guggenheim, the one born of the wealthy American family who was herself a Bohemian and socialite of the Paris scene.)
She returned to New York in 1929 and began photographing the City, which she saw was changing rapidly. Her pictures are among the most important and most entertaining of all the work that documented New York in those days and they offer us a look into life in America that will forever remind us of ourselves of an earlier day.
One of my favorites is the one below of the newstand. I grew up scouring these places, wishing I had more than just the few lonely quarters in my pocket. There was so much to see and discover there! Most, if not all, of the titles on this stand are long gone now, but what a time for publishing it was!
A casual search of the internet will reward you with a ton of Abbott’s photography. Maybe someday you’ll aspire to own an original print of her work (or maybe that of some other not-quite-so-famous photographer)!
(Don’t miss the video below!)