Berenice Abbott


Bernice Abbott (American b. 1898-1991)


In 1917, Abbott enrolled very briefly at Ohio State University to study journalism. Dissatisfied with the university system, she then moved to New York City in early 1918. There, Abbott worked several jobs such as a waitress and yarn dyer, also volunteering at the Provincetown Playhouse, occasionally playing several minor roles in various productions.


In 1921 Abbott moved to Paris, intending to pursue a career in sculpture, a medium she had become interested in while living in New York. By fortune Abbott later became a dark room assistant to Man Ray, who she had previously known in New York. Initially she had no interest in photography, and had no intention of becoming anything but a good darkroom assistant. She was efficient and diligent, and soon found herself immensely enjoying the process.


In time, and after encouragement from Man Ray, Abbott began making her own photographs. "The first I took came out well, which surprised me. I had no idea of becoming a photographer, but the pictures kept coming out and most of them were good. Some were very good and I decided perhaps I could charge something for my work."


Her artistic instinct with photographic imaging was natural. Within a year she had opened her own portrait studio, which was also her home at 44 rue de Bac. 


After reading Andre Siegfried's America Comes of Age, Abbott decided to return to America. She arrived in New York City in February 1929 and found that the city had grown tremendously. Undoubtedly influenced by Atget who had photographed old Paris, Abbott's first thought was "old New York" must be photographed from every aspect. Abbott opened a portrait studio in the Hotel des Artistes. Soon her portraits and images of the city were being published in magazines such as Vanity Fair, The Saturday Review of Literature, the Saturday Evening Post, Theater Guild Magazine and Fortune.