Eugene Atget's Paris & Berenice Abbott's New York
April 5 – May 23/ 1999
French photographer Eugene Atget captured pre-World War I Paris before many of the city’s architectural splendors were lost to modernization and war. American-born photographer Berenice Abbott used her lens to preserve the physical changes of New York during the early 1930′s. A DePaul University Art Gallery exhibition that juxtaposes the parallel work of these important photographers will open April 9 and run through May 16.
“Eugene Atget’s Paris and Berenice Abbott’s New York” represents two of the world’s greatest cities during periods of dramatic change. “It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of Atget and Abbott in the history of photography.” Said Art Gallery Director Louise Lincoln.” Atget virtually invented straight documentary photography in Pairs; Abbott advance it in New York. And they both made incredibly beautiful and evocative images.”
The exhibition comprises 41 photographs, 20 from each photographer’s cityscape collection, and a portrait Abbott took of Atget days before his death in 1927. An illustrated catalog with an essay by Syracuze University Art Collection Curator David L. Prince is available at the gallery free of charge.
Atget was an actor traveling in and around Paris in the late 19th century when he became acutely aware of the city’s physical transformation. In 1898 when construction of the Paris transit system caused the destruction of many buildings, Atget’s love of Paris inspired him to begin photographing the remaining historical sites. He used a large format view camera and glass plate negatives, even after equipment and processing had been technologically improved. “This difficult process allowed for bigger negatives which resulted in fine detail and richly toned images,” explained Lincoln. “Abbott began to use a large format camera for the same reasons.”
Atget and Abbott’s paths crossed in Paris, when the latter was working as an assistant to noted artist Man Ray. Abbott has been quoted as saying that she was immediately struck by the “unadorned realism” of Atget’s photographs. Abbott spent eight years in Paris, and on a visit to New York in 1929 was consumed by the desire to capture the physical change of the city. She had already established a name for herself as a photographer of Paris but had to struggle to make it in New York. Finally, in 1936, the Federal Arts Project approved her proposal for funding to complete her project entitled “Changing New York.” In December of 1937 the Museum of the City of New York organized a comprehensive exhibition of 110 of Abbott’s New York photographs.