This book is a great choice for those who love great photography, Berenice Abbott fans, those who are interested in the history of New York in the 1930s, and those who would like to enjoy a little nostalgia about their formative years in that magnificent city.
Berenice Abbott returned from 8 years in Europe at age 30 in January 1929, planning on a short stay. Instead, she was transfixed by the changes in the New York City scene, and became obsessed by the opportunity to capture it photographically. For the next 10 years this was her focus.
During the depths of the Depression, she was able to obtain a grant from the WPA to work with the Museum of the City of New York to create an exhaustive photographic essay of the city. This book contains the finest flowers of that remarkable assignment in 305 black and white photographs, a biographical essay about Abbott, maps of where the photographs were taken, and extensive notes on the locations and the photographic perspectives used.
The biographical essay was made more interesting by describing Abbott's strenuous financial and promotional efforts to support Atget's collection, while staving off poverty herself. The many fights over how to do the New York City project also make good reading as background for the images. Independent by nature, that quality of Abbott's probably improved the result in this case.
The presentation of the images is organized around the different geographical sections of Manhattan and the other boroughs, especially Brooklyn. As a result, you get a sense of neighborhoods as well as of individual images and locations.
As someone who learned photography from Man Ray, Abbott is a good student of abstract methods, and she subtly captures the surreal and the predominant design feeling contained in these subjects. Her works that are most like Man Ray's were the ones that most attracted me. I am very impressed by the encyclopedic knowledge that she must have developed of New York City to locate so many rewarding sights for us to consider.
My only quibble about the book was that in some sections the reproduction was too dark, so that details were unnecessarily lost that would have been of interest. But the page sizes were good for the images being presented, the design is solid, and the overall print quality was good.
My favorite images in the book were:
Immigration Building, Ellis Island
Theoline, Pier 11, East River
Tugboats, Pier 11, East River
Brooklyn Bridge with Pier 21, Pennsylvania Railroad
Hot Dog Stand
Wrought Iron Ornament
Doorway, 204 West 13th Street
Fifth Avenue Theatre, Orchestra, Boxes, First and Second Balconies
Father Duffy [wrapped like a Christo], Times Square
Gramercy Park West, Nos. 3-4
J.P. Morgan House
Murray Hill Hotel, Spiral
Watuppa, from Brooklyn Waterfront
Even though your photography may not be as good as you like, there is a lot of human value in making such a pictoral history of where you live. You can use this volume to get ideas for compositions and shooting angles. In this way, you can deepen your appreciation for Abbott's work.
Capture the important truths around you for all to see!