New York, N.Y.
Berenice Abbott studio
50 Commerce Street
Photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) is probably best known for her portraits of artists and writers in the 1920s expatriate community in Paris. Born in Ohio, she left the Midwest at age 22 to study in New York, Berlin, and Paris. While in Paris, she was assistant to the celebrated Man Ray, from 1923 to 1925. She later set out to do her own photographic portraits of such subjects as Jean Cocteau, Andre Gide, and James Joyce.
In 1929, Abbott returned to New York and began a visual chronicle of the city. For years, she lived and worked here on one of the most charming streets in Greenwich Village, above a restaurant called The Blue Mill Tavern, which is still there.
Much of the city’s old architecture was scheduled for demolition, and Abbott wanted to capture it on film before it disappeared. Her important volume, Changing New York (1937), recorded the shifting cityscape before the advent of World War II.
In the years after the war, Abbott became fascinated with new technology, particularly with using photographs to illustrate the laws of physics. Much of her later work was done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Though she never openly identified as gay, Abbott had several intimate relationships with women during her life. In the early 1920s, she was lovers with Thelma Wood, whom Abbott introduced to writer Djuna Barnes (Nightwood). Wood and Barnes subsequently had a stormy, alcohol-driven love affair. Barnes once commented: “I gave Berenice the extra ‘e’ in her name, and she gave me Thelma. I don’t know who made out better.”