Review: The Unknown Berenice Abbott

This review is contributed by Robin Benson


A lifetime of photos

A beautiful box set of five books with 699 whole page duotone photos. Like other Steidl books, for example Bruce Davidson or Gordon Parks, this set on Berenice Abbott reveals a photo life of seventy years before your eyes (though it doesn't include any of her science photos).

The contents of the five volumes:
Book ONE: New York: 1929 to 1931. 100 photos (plus eleven pages of her photo album used as a photographic reference guide to the city).
Includes the city from above and below, construction, the waterfront, El, the sidewalks of the city.
Book TWO: American Scene: 1930 to 1935. 87 photos.
New Jersey and Connecticut, 1931; American cities before the Civil War, 1934; architecture of HH Richardson, 1934; Southern trip, 1935.
Book THREE: Deep woods. 107 logging photos.
California, 1943; Main, 1966--1967.
Book FOUR: Greenwich Village, 1935--1950. 99 photos.
Book FIVE: U.S.1 USA. 153 photos including some color (plus eighteen smaller shots over two pages of signs along the highway).

Books three and five I found the most fascinating. The lengthy photo essay of logging in California and Maine shows BA not just covering the mechanics of how the men work but including several portraits of the workers giving the industry a human face. The Maine photos also have added interest because many of them were taken in wintertime with plenty of snow.

Book five, the thickest with the most photos gives a glimpse of a Berenice Abbott project that is least known about though some of the photos have been published. She wanted to document the way the auto was changing the landscape and creating a uniformity of appearance. Hank O'Neal in this book's essay says that an American placed in a typical shopping mall would be unable to pinpoint their location because of the retail and architectural sameness of the surroundings. In 1954 BA wanted to capture this encroaching sameness by photographing US 1 from the start at Fort Kent, Maine to the end at Key West, Florida, 2369 miles. The project created 1451 photos (including fifty or so color shots) and I think it is comparable to the work Steven Shore or Robert Frank and their highway work. These amazing photos are presented in a geographic format and you can feel yourself slowly travelling south as the architecture of cities and towns change and especially the weather creates different life styles.

This Berenice Abbott box set is another plus for Steild, a publisher who sets the gold standard for photography monographs.

The Unknown Berenice Abbott is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

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The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

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The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott

The Unknown Berenice Abbott


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