The Unknown Abbott

Abbott, Berenice


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Ger­hard Steidl had published the two volu­me Bere­ni­ce Abbott in 2008 and Docu­men­ting Sci­ence in 2012. The­se books are cur­r­ent­ly out of print but are going to be reis­sued by Steidl in the near future. Steidl met with the edi­tors Hank O’Neal and Ron Kurtz in late Janu­a­ry 2011 to dis­cuss future Abbott pro­jec­ts.

This was when they began thin­king of a series of Abbott books, dealing with various aspec­ts of her care­er. Hank O’Neal and Ron Kurtz have cho­sen to pre­sent five volu­mes of work, ran­ging from her ear­liest pho­to­graphs in New York City to docu­ments of Ame­ri­can cities befo­re the Civil War, vigo­rous lum­ber­jacks in California’s High Sier­ra Moun­tains, the sophisti­ca­ted bohemia of Green­wich Vil­la­ge as well as the amu­se­ments of Day­to­na Beach.

The Unknown Abbott is a very ambi­tious pro­ject that will pre­sent hund­reds of out­stan­ding Abbott images for the first time. Her repu­ta­ti­on is alrea­dy very secu­re, but the­se pre­vious­ly unknown images will fur­ther cla­ri­fy the ran­ge of her pho­to­gra­phic activi­ty bey­ond her por­traits in Paris, Chan­ging New York and Docu­men­ting Sci­ence.

Bere­ni­ce Abbott was one of the most ver­sa­ti­le pho­to­gra­phic artists of the twen­tieth cen­tu­ry and her work has been published and publi­ci­zed sin­ce the begin­ning of her care­er in 1925. She is best known for her Paris por­traits of the 1920s and her docu­men­ta­ti­on of New York City in the 1930s but, like most gre­at artists, Abbott’s repu­ta­ti­on has rested on a small por­ti­on of her life’s work.

For every time one of her most famous pho­to­graphs has been published the­re are many others that could have ser­ved the same pur­po­se but were not used becau­se they are less well known.
In Abbott’s case the­re is an unusual­ly lar­ge body of unknown work becau­se during the most poten­ti­al­ly crea­ti­ve time of her life, the cir­cum­s­tan­ces of her exis­tence were very com­pli­ca­ted, lar­ge­ly due to lack of work and inco­me, par­ti­cu­lar­ly bet­ween the years 1929 to 35 and 1940 to 1959.

Many of the pho­to­graphs she did mana­ge to crea­te in tho­se years were not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly com­mer­ci­al to attract a publisher and she was finan­ci­al­ly unab­le to publi­ci­ze them on her own, deve­lop a pro­ject to its natu­ral con­clu­si­on or, in some instan­ces, even under­ta­ke a pro­ject of inte­rest. The Unknown Abbott attempts to cor­rect this situa­ti­on and make some of Abbott’s out­stan­ding but lar­ge­ly unknown work avail­ab­le to a wider public.













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