Berenice Abbott
Murray Hill Hotel, 1935
Gelatin silver print, 93/4 x 8 in. 

About the Art

Berenice Abbott was fascinated by the dynamic modernization of New York City in the first half of the twentieth century. From electric light and telephones, to steel construction and automobiles, the American city was undergoing a great transition. This image captures the ever-changing architectural styles, featuring the soaring innovation of the skyscraper. The modern, angular high-rise building is shown in contrast with an older, ornate building with its curved iron balconies. Abbott is known for her dramatic perspectives and careful cropping to create her compositions. Here we have a sweeping view upward. The image does not show the entire buildings or larger street scene, but focuses on the space in the sky where these diverse structures meet. 

About the Artist

Berenice Abbott was born in 1898. She learned photography in the 1920s while working as an assistant to fellow American artist Man Ray in Paris. She opened her own portrait studio in France and met the photographer Eugene Atget. She became enchanted with his images of Paris taken over three decades. (An Atget image can be found in this packet.) Atget died in 1927 and Abbott carefully saved his glass negatives and prints and began promoting his work through exhibitions. Abbott returned to the United States in the 1930s. Amazed by the changes she found in New York City, and influenced by the work of Atget, she began to document this modern landscape. This large body of images resulted in the publication of a book called Changing New York. She taught at the New School for Social Research in New York from the 1930s until1958. Abbott died in 1991. 

Vocabulary 

Cropping – choosing how to frame an image to focus the viewer’s eye.