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New York Changing: Revisiting Berenice Abbott's New York [Hardcover]

Douglas Levere , Bonnie Yochelson , Paul Goldberger


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Book Description

Feb. 1 2005
In 1935 the renowned photographer Berenice Abbott set out on a five-year, WPA-funded project to document New York's transformation from a nineteenth-century city into a modern metropolis of towering skyscrapers. The result was the landmark publication Changing New York, a milestone in the history of photography that stands as an indispensable record of the Depression-era city.
More than sixty years later, New York is an even denser city of steel-and-glass and restless energy. Guided by Abbott's voice and vision, New York photographer Douglas Levere has revisited the sites of 100 of Abbott's photographs, meticulously duplicating her compositions with exacting detail; each shot is taken at the same time of day, at the same time of year, and with the same type of camera. New York Changing pairs Levere's and Abbott's images, resulting in a remarkable commentary on the evolution of a metropolis known for constantly reinventing itself.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (Feb. 1 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568984731
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568984735
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 22.2 x 28.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #712,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Real progress is something that needn’t be commented on; it is simply self-evident. That’s the principle behind this elegantly understated book, which places photographs taken by photographer Berenice Abbott in the mid-1930s alongside present-day photos of the same locations shot by Douglas Levere, whose work has appeared in such magazines as Forbes and People. In some cases, the contemporary images are remarkably similar to the Depression-era ones; take, for instance, the New York Telephone Building, which, aside from a new name (Verizon Communications Building), seems unchanged by time. Others are utterly different. In 1937, the Wanamaker’s department store occupied the corner of Broadway and east 9th Street, and its façade was covered in billboards; today, a 15-story apartment building and diner stand in that same space. Some duos are similar, but with one altered element—like the absence, in 2002, of an elevated railroad track blazing through Herald Square, as it did in 1936. It’s clear that Levere took care to re-shoot the photos from virtually the same angles that Abbott used—which is much easier said than done. The text that accompanies each pair of photos underlies the difficulty of Levere’s task. For a photo depicting Fifth Avenue shoppers dashing around, Levere had to rent a double-decker bus, but since he couldn’t get permission from the city to stop in traffic, "the bus driver feigned an emergency, placing orange cones on the road and opening the bus hood to allow Levere to take his photograph at precisely 1:10 P.M." This is exactly the kind of scrupulous attention to detail that makes this book work so well. 170 duotone photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Douglas Levere is a New York-based photographer whose works have been published in Newsweek, Business Week, Forbes, and People.

Bonnie Yochelson is an art historian and former curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York. She has written extensively on New York photography including Berenice Abbott: Changing New York.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abbott would have approved Jan. 10 2005
By Peter Barr - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest either in New York or photography-or both. It reveals much about New York in recent years, about Douglas Levere's fanatical and skillful photographic obsession; and it reminds us of Abbott's remarkable accomplishment during the 1930s.

In a CNN interview, Levere described his re-photography project modestly as a snapshot of New York at the end of the last century that we can compare to Abbott's snapshot of New York in the 1930s. Through such a comparison, he said, we can learn "what we've done to this place we call New York." While this is true, his use of the term "snapshot" suggests a kind of intuitive casualness, which is far from the truth, at least in terms of Levere's own photographs. Although Abbott's views of New York were sometimes taken intuitively and occasionally even randomly, Levere's photographs are anything but. One immediately senses and appreciates his faithful replication of every shadow, every angle, every framing, and every bit of lens distortion in Abbott's original photographs. His scrupulous attention to the details in her work is especially remarkable because Abbott's techniques did not make his task easy. She created vexing puzzles not only by tampering with some of her lenses (to double their magnification, according to the book's introduction), but also by taking some of her Financial District photographs blindly over the edge of tall buildings because of her fear of heights.

It is striking that Levere's project is so different from Abbott's in process, but similar to a certain extent in effect. Abbott's project was primarily a sociological study imbedded within modernist aesthetic practices. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realize that their environment was a consequence of their collective behavior (and visa versa). Moreover, she avoided the merely pretty in favor of what she described as "fantastic" contrasts between the old and the new, and chose her camera angles and lenses to create compositions that either stabilized a subject (if she approved of it), or destabilized it (if she scorned it). Levere, on the other hand, started with Abbott's camera location, camera angle, lens, time of day and time of year, and recorded what appeared within his camera's viewer. Clearly Levere's images seem unlike Abbott's in intent. Yet because of the broad range of new and old subjects that he has recorded, when juxtaposed with the even older subjects in Abbott's images, his project, too, creates a similar fantastic impact.

Moreover, despite the near-randomness of Levere's subjects, one imagines that Abbott would be pleased that his photographs are able to tell us much about the culture of late twentieth-century New York. By comparing his work to hers, we are repeatedly reminded that New York is, like all vital cities, an ever-changing manifestation of the people who live there: their enterprise, love and fashions as well as their dereliction and spite. Such an interpretation is reinforced by Bonnie Yochelson's richly insightful captions. But Levere's project will be even more significant than that for future historians. Because his project began in 1997 and ended in 2002, it also offers us one of the best (though unintended-and perhaps for this very reason twice-as-compelling and ten times as chilling) records of New York in the months leading up to, and immediately following, September 11, 2001, when the entire world was reminded that New York is a manifestation, too, of people who do not live there at all.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful window into the past and present of NYC Feb. 24 2005
By booksyouwant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
By painstakingly retracing the steps of legendary New York photographer Berenice Abbott, Douglas Levere delivers a book that is nothing less than a time machine in hardcover.

Duplicating the smallest detail -- the time of day, season, angle of the sun -- from Abbott's 1930s photographs of New York City, Levere erases every difference between Abbott's images and his own. Except time.

And with time is the only variable, the readers of these protographic pairs can focus on the information they offer.

Abbott's Italian babershop is a Chinese convenience store now. The beautiful arches of the New York Produce Exchange replaced by the crass modernism of the MTA headquarters. The working dock under the Queensboro Bridge replaced by a dainty fenced promenade.

The quality and depth of the photographs invite viewers to lean in, and lose themselves, in a New York City that once was, and the implacable grinding wheel of progress that makes way for the new. Yet sometimes the wonder is how little changes at all, as in the view of a Manhattan Bridge tower.

Lovers of New York City, and of thought-provoking photography that exults engagement over detatchment, will lose themselves in this book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating for anyone who likes NYC, photography or history Nov. 1 2004
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am planning on getting this book for friends for the holidays - both those who live in NYC and those who just love it. The comparison between NYC in the 30s and now is compelling - what is new, what is missing and what remains. There were buildings that were boarded up for the depression that are utilized now. The pictures are beautiful and Mr. Levere did a great job making parallel pictures that capture the same feeling about New York that Ms. Abbott did so long ago.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Double take July 9 2006
By Robin Benson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Then and now photobooks of American cities are steady bookshop sellers but it is not until you turn over the pages of 'New York Changing' that you'll realise that this is how it should be done. Douglas Levere, with help from Berenice Abbott, has created a brilliant photo record of the world's premier city.

To start with Abbott created the perfect architectural record with the 1935 to 1939 WPA sponsored project when she shot just over three hundred photos of the city (you can see two hundred of these in 'Berenice Abbott: Changing New York', ISBN 1565845560) and Levere has retaken over a hundred of these with eighty-one appearing in his book.

Unlike other inferior books of the genre Levere has taken the utmost care with his project. Not only using the same type of camera and lens as Abbott but waiting until the same season and time of day to freeze the moment six decades later. A fascinating page of technical details at the back of the book explains more. The eighty-one photos are divided into four chapters with the majority taken in Manhattan. On each spread Abbott's photo is on the left and Levere's opposite, Bonnie Yochelson writes a straightforward caption for all of the images.

With the help of 200dpi printing, quality paper and elegant design these photos (and the book) look just stunning. The perfect photobook!

***FOR AN INSIDE LOOK click 'customer images' under the cover.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Before and After Look at New York March 29 2006
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In the middle of the depression Berenice Abbott began a five year, WPA funded project to document in photographs New York's transformation from the 19th century to the modern metropolis of skyscrapers. The result was published as 'Changing New York.'

Sixty years later Douglas Levere went back to the same sites of 100 of Abbotts photographs and took another picture with the same angle, the same view, and usually even the same time of day (to get the same sun angle) of the same scene.

The result is this book, 'New York Changing' which shows these pictures arranged next to each other. That way, the only differrence between the pictures is the changes that have come about in the basic structure of the city.

This is a beautiful coffee table book, except that seeing one set of pictures makes you want to turn to the next set, and you've soon gone through the whole book.

Highly recommended.

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