Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott


Artist Details

Birth Place
Springfield, Ohio
Death Place
Monson, Maine
Phonetic Spelling
BAIR-eh-nees AB-eht
Books and manuscripts; Photography; Sculpture
Places of Residence
Paris; New York City
New York University, New York, ca. 1939–40; Columbia University, New York, 1918; Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1917–18
Retrospective Exhibitions

Making Science Visible: The Photography of Berenice Abbott, The Fralin Museum of Art, Virginia, 2012;

Berenice Abbott: Portraits, New York Views, and Science Photographs from the Permanent Collection, International Center for Photography, New York, 1996;

Documenting New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott, Dallas Museum of Art, 1992; Berenice Abbott: Photographs, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970

NMWA Exhibitions

From the Collection: Portraits of Women by Women, 2006

Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century, 1999–2000

Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York, 1935-1939, 1998–99

A History of Women Photographers, 1997

About the Artist

Berenice Abbott was one of the first documentary photographers, or photojournalists, who used the camera as a tool for realistic documentation.

Born in Springfield, Ohio, Abbott initially studied sculpture in New York, Berlin, and Paris. Her love of photography developed in Paris in 1923, while assisting famed photographer Man Ray in his studio. Abbott began taking portrait photographs and opened her own studio in 1926.  

Throughout the 1920s, Abbott photographed the intelligentsia of Paris and New York, including James Joyce, Eugène Atget, Lelia Walker, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her straightforward, detailed portraits defied conventions and made her famous.

After eight years in Europe, Abbott returned to New York City. Struck by the city's metamorphosis during her absence, she felt compelled to document the fusion of old and new. Through a grant from the Works Progress Administration, she created 305 photographs that recorded the city’s changing character and dynamism. She also continued her portrait work.

In addition to her pioneering work as a photographer, Abbott wrote and illustrated how-to books on photography, which later became standard guides for photographic techniques. She also invented new photographic equipment and techniques, some of which she patented. She was one of the first photographers to join art and science in a significant way.

National Museum of Women in the Arts