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Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott
(American, 1898-1991)
Three Workers in a Field, n.d.
Vintage gelatin silver print, 7 ¾” x 9 3/8”
Gift of Monique Goldstrom (97.117)

Berenice Abbott documented the American scene from the onset of the Great Depression until well into the Atomic Age.  Although she is best known for her images of New York City, she also embarked on major photographic surveys of subjects in the South and on the East Coast.  Three Workers in a Field is typical of Abbott’s detached photographic style, in which both the figures and their context form the substance of a documentary whole.  In the same spirit of creating an objective documentary image, Abbott preferred the Straight Photography approach for its clear and relatively unmanipulated handling of subject matter.

Abbott, a native of Springfield, Ohio, moved to New York City after spending two years at Ohio State University.  There she pursued various artistic and literary endeavors before traveling overseas to study sculpture in Europe.  In Paris, she became studio assistant to Surrealist photographer Man Ray, who allowed Abbott the use of his darkroom.  Finding her true vocation, Abbott opened her own photo studios and began to exhibit her work.  After a visit to New York in 1929, the artist became impressed with the tremendous changes occurring in the city.  Shortly afterward, she returned permanently, and for the rest of her career, Abbott worked on various documentary projects, including Changing New York, which was published in 1939.  Her last major work, A Portrait of Maine, appeared three years after Abbott moved to that state for health reasons in 1965.