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Berenice Abbott
© Hank O'Neal in New York City, 18 November 1979
Berenice Abbott
Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott

Country: United States
Birth: 1898 | Death: 1991

Berenice Abbott was an American photographer best known for her portraits of between-the-wars 20th-century cultural figures, New York City photographs of architecture and urban design of the 1930s, and science interpretation in the 1940s to 1960s.

Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio, and brought up in Ohio by her divorced mother, née Lillian Alice Bunn (m. Charles E. Abbott in Chillicothe OH, 1886). She attended Ohio State University for two semesters but left in early 1918 when her professor was dismissed because he was a German teaching an English class. She moved to New York City, where she studied sculpture and painting. In 1921 she traveled to Paris and studied sculpture with Emile Bourdelle. While in Paris, she became an assistant to Man Ray, who wanted someone with no previous knowledge of photography. Abbott took revealing portraits of Ray's fellow artists.

Abbott was part of the straight photography movement, which stressed the importance of photographs being unmanipulated in both subject matter and developing processes. She also disliked the work of pictorialists who had become popular during a substantial span of her career, leaving her work without support from this school of photographers. Most of Abbott's work was influenced by what she described as her unhappy and lonely childhood. This gave her the strength and determination to follow her dreams.

Throughout her career, Abbott's photography was very much a reflection of the rise in the development of technology and society. Her works documented and extolled the New York landscape. This was guided by her belief that a modern-day invention such as the camera deserved to document the 20th century.

The film Berenice Abbott: A View of the 20th Century, which showed 200 of her black and white photographs, suggests that she was a "proud proto-feminist"; someone who was ahead of her time in feminist theory. Before the film was completed she questioned, "The world doesn't like independent women, why, I don't know, but I don't care." She identified publicly as a lesbian and lived with her partner, art critic Elizabeth McCausland, for 30 years.

Berenice Abbott's life and work are the subject of the 2017 novel The Realist: A Novel of Berenice Abbott, by Sarah Coleman.

Source: Wikipedia


Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term—selectivity.

-- Berenice Abbott



Berenice Abbott was born and raised in Ohio where she endured an erratic family life. In 1918, after two semesters at Ohio State University, she left to join friends associated with the Provincetown Players, in Greenwich Village. There she met Djuna Barnes, Kenneth Burke, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Little Review editors Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and other influential modernists. From 1919-1921, while studying sculpture, Abbott supported herself as an artist's model, posing for photographers Nikolas Muray and Man Ray. She also met Marcel Duchamp, and participated in Dadaist publications.

Abbott moved to Paris in 1921, where she continued to study sculpture (and in Berlin), and to support herself by modeling. During 1923-1926, she worked as Man Ray's darkroom assistant (he had also relocated to Paris) and tried portrait photography at his suggestion. Abbott's first solo exhibition, in 1926, launched her career. In 1928 she rescued and began to promote Eugène Atget's photographic work, calling his thirty years of Parisian streetscapes and related studies "realism unadorned."

In 1929 Abbott took a new artistic direction to tackle the scope (if not the scale) of Atget's achievement in New York City. During 1929-38, she photographed urban material culture and the built environment of New York, documenting the old before it was torn down and recording new construction. From 1934-58, she also taught photography at the New School. During 1935-39, Abbott worked as a "supervisor" for the Federal Art Project to create Changing New York (her free-lance work and New School teaching commitment made her ineligible for unemployment relief) .

From 1939-60, Abbott photographed scientific subjects, concluding with her notable illustrations for the MIT-originated Physical Sciences Study Committee's revolutionary high school physics course. In 1954, she photographed along the length of US 1; the work never found a publisher. In 1968, Abbott sold the Atget archive to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and moved permanently to her home in central Maine (bought in 1956 and restored over several decades) .

1970 saw Abbott's first major retrospective exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art. Her first retrospective portfolio appeared in 1976, and she received the International Center of Photography's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. She died at home in Monson, Maine in December 1991.

Source: New York Public Library


I took to photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to do anything else. Excitement about the subject is the voltage which pushes me over the mountain of drudgery necessary to produce the final photograph.

-- Berenice Abbott



In 1929, Abbott returned to the United States, where she embarked on her best-known body of work--a documentation of New York City for which she developed her famous bird's-eye and worm's-eye points of view. She worked on the project independently through the early years of the Depression, and in 1935, secured funding from the Federal Art Project (a part of the Works Progress Administration). Her pictures were published as Changing New York (1939), which was both critically and commercially successful; it remains a classic text for historians of photography.

One of Abbott's later final projects was an illustration of a scientific phenomenon, produced in the 1950s in collaboration with the Physical Sciences Study Committee based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although not as well known as her New York work, these pictures are exquisite examples of her acumen for technical experimentation and her natural instinct for combining factual photographic detail with stunning artistic accomplishment. With their clear visual demonstration of abstract scientific principles, the photographs were chosen to illustrate physics textbooks of the 1950s and 1960s.

Source: International Center of Photography


 

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Jack Delano
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Fred Lyon
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Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important American artists. For the length of his professional career, from the early 1870s until his health began to fail some 40 years later, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia. He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of contemporary Philadelphia; individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons. In addition, Eakins produced a number of large paintings that brought the portrait out of the drawing-room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city. 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Since his death, he has been celebrated by American art historians as "the strongest, most profound realist in the nineteenth and early-twentieth-century American art". Eakins has been credited with having "introduced the camera to the American art studio". During his study abroad, he was exposed to the use of photography by the French realists, though the use of photography was still frowned upon as a shortcut by traditionalists. In the late 1870s, Thomas Eakins was introduced to the photographic motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge, particularly the equine studies, and became interested in using the camera to study sequential movement. In the mid-1880s, Eakins worked briefly alongside Muybridge in the latter's photographic studio at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Eakins soon performed his own independent motion studies, also usually involving the nude figure, and even developed his own technique for capturing movement on film. Whereas Muybridge's system relied on a series of cameras triggered to produce a sequence of individual photographs, Eakins preferred to use a single camera to produce a series of exposures superimposed on one negative. Thomas Eakins was more interested in precision measurements on a single image to aid in translating a motion into a painting, while Muybridge preferred separate images that could also be displayed by his primitive movie projector. After Eakins obtained a camera in 1880, several paintings, such as Mending the Net (1881) and Arcadia (1883), are known to have been derived at least in part from his photographs. Some figures appear to be detailed transcriptions and tracings from the photographs by some device like a magic lantern, which Eakins then took pains to cover up with oil paint. Thomas Eakins' methods appear to be meticulously applied, and rather than shortcuts, were likely used in a quest for accuracy and realism. An excellent example of Thomas Eakins' use of this new technology is his painting A May Morning in the Park, which relied heavily on photographic motion studies to depict the true gait of the four horses pulling the coach of patron Fairman Rogers. But in typical fashion, Eakins also employed wax figures and oil sketches to get the final effect he desired. The so-called Naked Series, which began in 1883, were nude photos of students and professional models which were taken to show real human anatomy from several specific angles, and were often hung and displayed for study at the school. Later, less regimented poses were taken indoors and out, of men, women, and children, including his wife. The most provocative, and the only ones combining males and females, were nude photos of Eakins and a female model. Although witnesses and chaperones were usually on site, and the poses were mostly traditional in nature, the sheer quantity of the photos and Eakins' overt display of them may have undermined his standing at the Academy. In all, about eight hundred photographs are now attributed to Eakins and his circle, most of which are figure studies, both clothed and nude, and portraits. No other American artist of his time matched Eakins' interest in photography, nor produced a comparable body of photographic works. Thomas Eakins used photography for his own private ends as well. Aside from nude men, and women, he also photographed nude children. While the photographs of the nude adults are more artistically composed, the younger children and infants are posed less formally. These photographs, that are “charged with sexual overtones,” as Susan Danly and Cheryl Leibold write, are of unidentified children. In the catalog of Eakins' collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, photograph number 308 is of an African American child reclining on a couch and posed as Venus. Both Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten write, respectively, about the photograph, and the child that it arrests. Late in life Eakins did experience some recognition. In 1902 he was made a National Academician. In 1914 the sale of a portrait study of D. Hayes Agnew for The Agnew Clinic to Dr. Albert C. Barnes precipitated much publicity when rumors circulated that the selling price was fifty thousand dollars. In fact, Barnes bought the painting for four thousand dollars. Eakins died on June 25, 1916, at the age of 71 and is buried at The Woodlands, which is located near the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. In the year after his death, Eakins was honored with a memorial retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in 1917–18 the Pennsylvania Academy followed suit. Susan Macdowell Eakins did much to preserve his reputation, including gifting the Philadelphia Museum of Art with more than fifty of her husband's oil paintings. After her death in 1938, other works were sold off, and eventually another large collection of art and personal material was purchased by Joseph Hirshhorn, and now is part of the Hirshhorn Museum's collection. Since then, Eakins' home in North Philadelphia was put on the National Register of Historic Places list in 1966, and Eakins Oval, across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, was named for the artist. In 1967 The Biglin Brothers Racing (1872) was reproduced on a United States postage stamp. His work was also part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1932 Summer Olympics. Since the 1990s, Eakins has emerged as a major figure in sexuality studies in art history, for both the homoeroticism of his male nudes and for the complexity of his attitudes toward women. Controversy shaped much of his career as a teacher and as an artist. He insisted on teaching men and women "the same", used nude male models in female classes and vice versa, and was accused of abusing female students. Recent scholarship suggests that these scandals were grounded in more than the "puritanical prudery" of his contemporaries—as had once been assumed—and that Eakins' progressive academic principles may have protected unconscious and dubious agendas. These controversies may have been caused by a combination of factors such as the bohemianism of Eakins and his circle (in which students, for example, sometimes modeled in the nude for each other), the intensity and authority of his teaching style, and Eakins' inclination toward unorthodox or provocative behavior. Eakins was unable to sell many of his works during his lifetime, so when he died in 1916, a large body of artwork passed to his widow, Susan Macdowell Eakins. She carefully preserved it, donating some of the strongest pieces to various museums. When she in turn died in 1938, much of the remaining artistic estate was destroyed or damaged by executors, and the remainders were belatedly salvaged by a former Eakins student.Source: Wikipedia
Patricia Lagarde
Patricia Lagarde was born in Mexico City, where she currently lives and works. Studies in Communication and Graphic Design. She develops in the middle of photography from an early age. Her work revolves around three fundamental axes; the object as a symbol, the construction of memory and the poetics of space. Her images and artist books have been shown in Museums, Galleries and Fairs in various countries around the world. In Mexico it is represented by Patricia Conde Galería, in San Francisco by The Jack Fischer Gallery. Statement Patricia Lagarde's work is akin to that imaginary construction of an excessive, circular notion of time found in the most conspicuous narratives of magical realism. She grabs such epic dimension of time and submits it to an intimate experience. The signs she works with have no great scenarios of history as spatial references but rather much more discrete enclosures, such as the alchemist's laboratory, a cabinet of curiosities or an antiques collection. Objects that have been touched, used or abandoned are the most recurring personal motives throughout her career. Or perhaps we should say the “aura” of such objects, resulting from the way time has noticed them. Insects, toys, maps and spheres, ancient instruments, clothes, reproductions of works of art, other photographs and other texts are then taken to a ranking ground where the colossal and the tiny are confused, where the distinction between the own and the alien is no longer important, the imaginary and the real hierarchies are reversed and the meaning of usefulness loses relevance. (Author_Juan Antonio Molina)
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