National Museum of Women in the Arts
Berenice Abbott
July 17 1898 - December 09 1991
Kay Simon Blumberg, Berenice Abbott Playing the Concertina, 1940. Museum of the City of New York, NY, USA. Gift of the artist. (c) Museum of the City of New York.
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
BAIR-eh-nees AB-eht
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Books and manuscripts, Photography, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Illustrator, Photographer, Portraitist, Sculptor
Artist's Biography:
Berenice Abbott was a master photographer. She is recognized as the originator of documentary photography or photojournalism. No other photographer, man or woman, had yet envisioned it as a tool of realistic documentation.

Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio, and eventually moved to Paris. As a young artist, Abbott took individual portraits that seem intended for posterity. Some of these included James Joyce, Eugène Atget, Lelia Walker and Edna St. Vincent Millay. She would take six shots per sitting. The results were highly interesting and technical prints.

After Paris, Abbott moved to New York. During the 1930s she photographed it changing, from one day to the next; buildings destroyed, rebuilt but not replaced. She worked tirelessly, shooting artful documentations of streets and boroughs. She sought an unspoiled spiritual America.

To keep money coming in, Abbott wrote and illustrated how-to books on photography, which were later reprinted to become the standard works for photographic techniques. Abbott moved again into a totally new field for photographers. She became interested in science, specifically in photograph kinetics, as Thomas Eakins had done in the nineteenth century. But as a twentieth century artist, Abbott was now interested in the underlying world of unseen physics: the path of a steel ball thrown in the air, and conditions permitting her inimitable artistic magnification Bubbles. Abbott guarded her inventions, and patented some of her photographic devices and contraptions. She was one of the first photographers to join art and science in a significant way.

Other Occupation(s):
Author, Instructor, Scientist, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Where Trained/Schools:
New York University, New York, NY, USA (ca. 1939-1940) Columbia University, New York, NY, USA (1918) Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA (1917-1918)
Related Visual Artists:
student of Man Ray student of Émile Bourdelle student of Constantin Brancusi teacher of Diane Arbus friend of and influenced by Eugène Atget friend of Philip Johnson
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Officier des Arts et Lettres, Republic of France, France (1988) Honorary Doctorate, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA (1971) Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Photography, Association of International Photo Art Dealers, New York, NY, USA (1970)
Earliest exhibition:
Portraits Photographiques, Galerie Au Sacre du Printemps, Paris, France (1926)
NMWA exhibition(s):
A History of Women Photographers
Berenice Abbott's Changing New York, 1935-1939
From the Collection: Portraits of Women by Women
Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century
Artist retrospective(s):
Berenice Abbott: Portraits, New York Views, and Science Photographs from the Permanent Collection, International Center for Photography, New York, NY, USA (1996) Berenice Abbott: Photographs, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA (1970)
Related places
Monson (died at)
Betty Parsons
Coco Chanel
Djuna Barnes
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Janet Flanner
Nora Joyce