In Paris in the 1920s, the young American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) encountered the elderly French photographer Eugène Atget (1857–1927). Their contact would have profound and lasting effects on the careers and legacies of both artists. Through a sequence of riveting and often iconic images, the exhibition elaborates the relationship between Abbott’s and Atget’s photography.
We see Atget’s antique Paris, its medieval streets and old houses and quirky residents, and also Abbott’s New York, with its remnants of history but also its newest soaring skyscrapers of the 1930s. While the Surrealists acclaimed Atget’s eerie views of mannequins and carnivals, Abbott particularly admired his objective documentation of Paris, which shaped her own similarly extended project of systematically depicting New York. Just as Atget influenced her, she in turn had a great impact on the older man’s place in history: she acquired a significant portion of Atget’s estate and promoted his work in both France and the United States. Having succeeded in boosting his fame, she eventually sold her entire Atget collection to The Museum of Modern Art in New York, which ensured his lasting place in the history of photography
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.
Whether or not you go, the companion publication, Old Paris and Changing New York: Photographs by Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott, examines the relationship between Eugène Atgetand Berenice Abbott and the nuances of their individual photographic projects. Abbott and Atget met in Man Ray’s Paris studio in the early 1920s. Atget, then in his sixties, was obsessively recording the streets, gardens, and courtyards of the 19th-century city—old Paris—as modernization transformed it. Abbott acquired much of Atget’s work after his death and was a tireless advocate for its value. She later relocated to New York and emulated Atget in her systematic documentation of that city, culminating in the publication of the project Changing New York. This engaging publication discusses how, during the 1930s and 1940s, Abbott paid further tribute to Atget by publishing and exhibiting his work and by printing hundreds of images from his negatives, using the gelatin silver process. Through Abbott’s efforts, Atget became known to an audience of photographers and writers who found diverse inspiration in his photographs. Abbott herself is remembered as one of the most independent, determined, and respected photographers of the 20th century.
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