Berenice Abbott’s 1929 Photographic Album of New York City on Show
Opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on March 2, 2023, Berenice Abbott’s New York Album, 1929 will present selections from a unique unbound album of photographs of New York City created by American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898–1991), shedding light on the creative process of one of the great artists of the 20th century.
Consisting of 266 small black-and-white prints arranged on 32 pages, the album is a kind of photographic sketchbook that offers a rare glimpse of an artist’s mind at work. In addition to some 25 framed album pages, the exhibition will feature:
- photographs from The Met collection of Paris streets by Eugène Atget, whose archive Abbott purchased and promoted
- views of New York by her contemporaries Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White
- selections from Abbott’s grand documentary project, Changing New York (1935–39)
"Berenice Abbott's groundbreaking work in photography continues to inspire and captivate audiences today, nearly a century after she first began documenting the world around her," said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. "Abbott's insightful and powerful images provide a window into the New York of the past, while also reminding us of the city's enduring vitality and resilience."
Born in Ohio, Abbott moved to New York City in 1918 and to Paris in 1921. She learned photography as a darkroom assistant in Man Ray’s studio and soon established herself as a prominent portraitist of the Parisian avant-garde. Through Man Ray, Abbott met the aging French photographer Eugène Atget, whose documentation of Paris and its environs struck her as a model of modern photographic art. Following Atget's sudden death in 1927, she purchased his archive of some 8,000 prints and 1,500 glass negatives and set about promoting his work through exhibitions and publications.
In January 1929, after eight years in Europe, Abbott boarded an ocean liner to New York City for what was intended to be a short visit. Upon arrival, she found the city transformed and ripe with photographic potential. “When I saw New York again, and stood in the dirty slush, I felt that here was the thing I had been wanting to do all my life,” she recalled. Inspired by Atget, Abbott traversed the city with a handheld camera, photographing its skyscrapers, storefronts, bridges, elevated trains, and neighborhood street life. She pasted these "notes" into a standard black-page album, arranging them by subject and locale.
As the immediate precursor to her 1930s WPA project, Changing New York, Abbott's New York album marks a key moment of transition in her career: from Europe to America and from studio portraiture to urban documentation. The exhibition will be accompanied by an online feature that identifies, for the first time, the locations of many of the photographs in the album.
Berenice Abbott’s New York Album, 1929 is organized by Mia Fineman, Curator in the Department of Photographs, with assistance from Virginia McBride, Research Assistant in the Department of Photographs, both at The Met.