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Exhibition at Die Photographische Sammlung presents the work of Berenice Abbott
Berenice Abbott: Triborough Bridge (East 125th Street Approach), 1937. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection; The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundations © Getty Images / Berenice Abbott.

COLOGNE.- The exhibition presents the work of the noted American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) based on 174 original photographs, flanked by extensive archive and display-case material. Arranged in several thematic chapters, the show focuses on the photographer’s diverse achievements, her varied forms of expression, and the signs of modern times found in her work beginning in the 1920s and 30s. A striking example is Abbott’s documentation of the urban structures of New York in her famous project “Changing New York” which she started in 1929. Here, we experience multiple facets of the microcosm and macrocosm of the dynamically developing metropolis, including its darker sides. Photographs of high-rises that turn streets into dark canyons, along with images of the everyday and cultural settings where urban life unfolds, expose a paradigm shift that still reverberates today, while also providing insights into Abbott’s personal interest in structures and constructions.

By the same token, the portraits of leading lights from the art and culture scene of the 1920s to the 1940s in Paris and New York with which Abbott launched her career reflect new lifestyles that boldly flout conventions. Among them are likenesses of high-profile personalities such as James Joyce, Peggy Guggenheim, Jean Cocteau, and Eugène Atget – figures whose work and influence were of far-reaching significance. Often photographing her subjects before a neutral background, Abbott had an alert eye for lighting and composition as well as for posture and facial expression, enabling her to create marvelously individual and charismatic portraits.

A group of prints Abbott made from original negatives by the French photographer Eugène Atget attest to her dedication to spreading the legacy of the old master. In 1928, Abbott was able to secure Atget’s archive in Paris. She then sold it in 1968 to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it is prized as one of the most important collections embodying cultural and photographic history.

Another chapter of the exhibition deals with Berenice Abbott’s work in scientific photography. Physical phenomena as revealed by various experiments, for example in the field of optics, are vividly illustrated in surprising image studies displaying an unconventional aesthetic and conception.

The exhibition was curated by Estrella de Diego, Professor of Contemporary Art at Complutense University of Madrid. Featuring loans from the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY; the Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, NY; the International Center of Photography, New York, NY; the MIT Museum, Cambridge, MA; and the New York Public Library, New York, NY. The exhibition was organized by the Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid.

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