Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography

Best known for her stark photographs of New York City and striking portraits of her notable contemporaries, Berenice Abbott was also a versatile science photographer, author, photo gear tinkerer with several patents, teacher at the New School of Social Research, archivist of Eugène Atget's prints and negatives, and pioneer feminist. Born in Ohio in 1898, her 93 years spanned nearly all of the 20th century. Van Haaften's authoritative Berenice Abbott reveals the personal and professional struggles and triumphs of a woman who cut her own path, a volume prolifically and judiciously illustrated, with numerous quotations from Abbott and her long-time partner, critic and journalist Elizabeth McCausland.

Abbott left Ohio State University for Greenwich Village in 1918 and never looked back. Broke and vaguely interested in art history, she hung around the bars of the Village with the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugene O'Neill, and worked odd jobs until she scraped together enough money to move to Paris. She learned photography in Man Ray's portrait studio and created what Van Haaften describes as "a visual legacy of strong women, many of them lesbian," including Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner and Djuna Barnes. Returning to New York during the Great Depression, Abbott fumbled along, supporting herself shooting occasional portraits until Roosevelt's WPA Federal Artist Project funded her "Changing New York" cityscape series. She quickly recognized her niche in the growing field of photographic art: "What a vast subject the metropolis is and how the work of photographing it could go on forever." Hanging precariously from skyscraper rooftops to get her shots, the enterprising Abbott was an active participant and observant lodestar in a tumultuous century. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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