October 3, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Moment in History: 3 October 1935 (feat. Berenice Abbott)

Exactly 86 years ago, on 3 October 1935, a man was coming up the steps of the Blossom Restaurant in Manhattan, New York. Berenice Abbott was there too.

"In late summer 1935, on what she would call the happiest day of her life, Abbott got the official go-ahead to begin Changing New York, her singular photo documentation project funded by the Federal Art Project, the government's unemployment relief program for cultural workers. The individualistic Abbott, classed as a supervisor, had her hands full overseeing out of work editors, graphic-designers, and photo lab technicians at FAP headquarters. In October, she set out to photograph locations she'd long been eyeing for their particular photogenic mix of signage, composition and sociology. Even then, a paternalistic bureaucrat told Abbott - just back from Bowery - that nice girls didn't go to such places. Abbott replied, "Buddy, I'm not a nice girl. I'm a photographer. But her bravado couldn't save her from a few sleepness nights, worried that program officials might try to control what and where she could photograph for her project." [1]

Sadly, we see power and misogyny in action. This reminds me of the work of Dorothea Lange, and the censored images of Japanese American Internment, published in an edited collection by Norton in 2008 (on the shelf, waiting for its own blog series).

In remembering these documentarists, their talent and their courage, their work and their lives, I aim to cultivate a sense of humility and objective awareness of the past, qualities which have been markedly absent in my academic life.


in Berenice Abbott: Aperture Masters of Photography Series, Introduction and Commentary by Linda Gordon, Aperture, New York, 2015, p. 34.

September 23, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography (by J. van Haaften)

Berenice Abbott is one of my favourite photographers.

I promised myself that when I will have made my first sale as a photographer, this would be the book I would get as a reward.

At 634 pages including an index, it is a hefty volume and I look forward to learning more about this extraordinary woman. Her relationship with Eugène Atget's work alone is fascinating - the image of her carrying his glassplates across the Atlantic, determined to preserve his work for a posterity that did not yet care, is inspiring.

I am also preparing myself for encountering stories of the harrowing misogyny she must have faced as a brilliant professional woman in the 20th century.