BERENICE ABBOTT Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: Bernice Abbott                                                                       
Born: 17 July 1898 Springfield, Ohio                                                       
Died: 9 December 1991 Monson, Maine                                                       
Berenice Abbott (July 17, 1898 – December 9, 1991), born Bernice Abbott, was an         
American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography of New York           
City architecture and urban design of the 1930s.                                           
Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio and brought up there by her divorced mother.         
She attended the Ohio State University, but left in early 1918.                           
In 1918 she moved with friends from OSU to New York's Greenwich Village, where             
she was 'adopted' by the anarchist Hippolyte Havel. She shared an apartment on             
Greenwich Avenue with several others, including the writer Djuna Barnes,                   
philosopher Kenneth Burke, and literary critic Malcolm Cowley. At first she               
pursued journalism, but soon became interested in theater and sculpture, perhaps           
because of her interaction with artists Eugene O'Neill, Man Ray and Sadakichi             
Hartmann. In 1919 she nearly died in the Spanish flu pandemic.                             
Abbott went to Europe in 1921, spending two years studying sculpture in Paris             
and Berlin. During this time, she adopted the French spelling of her first name,           
"Berenice," at the suggestion of Djuna Barnes. In addition to her work in the             
visual arts, Abbott published poetry in the experimental literary journal                 
Abbott's first became involved with photography in 1923, when Man Ray, looking             
for somebody who knew nothing about photography and thus would do as he said,             
hired her as a darkroom assistant at his portrait studio in Montparnasse. Later           
she would write: "I took to photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to           
do anything else." Ray was impressed by her darkroom work and allowed her to use           
his studio to take her own photographs. In 1926, she had her first solo                   
exhibition (in the gallery "Au Sacre du Printemps") and started her own studio             
on the rue du Bac. After a short time studying photography in Berlin, she                 
returned to Paris in 1927 and started a second studio, on the rue Servandoni.             
Abbott's subjects were people in the artistic and literary worlds, including               
French nationals (Jean Cocteau), expatriates (James Joyce), and others just               
passing through the city. According to Sylvia Beach, "To be 'done' by Man Ray or           
Berenice Abbott meant you rated as somebody". Abbott's work was exhibited                 
with that of Man Ray, André Kertész, and others in Paris, in the "Salon de l'Escalier"   
(more formally, the Premier Salon Indépendant de la Photographie), and on the             
staircase of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Her portraiture was unusual within       
exhibitions of modernist photography held in 1928–9 in Brussels and Germany.             
In 1925, Man Ray introduced her to Eugène Atget's photographs. She became a               
great admirer of Atget's work, and managed to persuade him to sit for a portrait           
in 1927. He died shortly thereafter. While the government acquired much of Atget's         
archive — Atget had sold 2,621 negatives in 1920, and his friend and executor           
André Calmettes sold 2,000 more immediately after his death — Abbott was               
able to buy the remainder in June 1928, and quickly started work on its                   
promotion. An early tangible result was the 1930 book Atget, photographe de               
Paris, in which she is described as photo editor. Abbott's work on Atget's                 
behalf would continue until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art           
in 1968. In addition to her book The World of Atget (1964), she provided the               
photographs for A Vision of Paris (1963), published a portfolio, Twenty                   
Photographs, and wrote essays. Her sustained efforts helped Atget gain                     
international recognition.