One may argue that Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) has not gotten the recognition she deserves in the world of photography. All of us have seen her pictures printed in NYC-themed black and white calendars: astonishing, vertigo-inducing views of New York skyscrapers at their beginnings, well-composed, geometrically compelling studies of the city’s modernity. But Abbott did not limit herself to concrete and glass.
When she was already an old woman, she would say “The world doesn’t like an independent woman. Why, I don’t know, but I don’t care.” In 1916, aged only 18, Abbott left her Ohio hometown for New York. Five years later and penniless, she left for Paris. In the Roaring Twenties, Paris was the artistic center of the world. There Man Ray introduced her to photography and to Eugène Atget, of whom she would become a fervent admirer. Thus, her early works are a photographic account of interwar Paris. Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamps, James Joyce… all sat in front of Abbott’s camera.
She returned to New York in the fatidic year 1929. From there on, she abandoned herself to the city, documenting its upward thriving with the support of the Federal Art Project. Abbott also traveled the East coast, producing a tender, and almost pop cultural visual corpus of American life during the Great Depression and after.
The last of her career was dedicated to her collaboration with the MIT, producing scientific images of physical phenomena of abstract quality. The current Jeu de Paume exhibition is her first Parisian retrospective, covering all three phases of her professional life. Always a fascinating visit, the Jeu de Paume museum in located in a nook of the Tuileries gardens, in front of the Orangerie museum and around the corner from our Hotel Powers and our Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal.