After exploring her creative urges through journalism, sculpture, poetry, and theater, Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) found a home for her artistic talents in photography while working in Paris as a darkroom assistant to Man Ray. Abbott knew Ray from an earlier encounter in New York, and though at the beginning of her tenure as his assistant she knew nothing about photography, she soon acquired her prodigious skills. Three short years later, in 1926, she had her first solo exhibition.
In 1929, she returned to New York from Paris and, as she would later report to a radio interviewer, “The minute I touched New York, I had a burning desire to photograph this city of incredible contrasts, the city of stone needles and skyscrapers, the city that is never the same—New York.”
Many of Abbott’s visually arresting New York images are gathered in the recently-published catalogue Berenice Abbott, edited by Gaëlle Morel, which accompanies an exhibition currently on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario. We’ve been particularly captivated, though, by the work in a subsequent group of photographs, collectively known as Abbott’s “scientific photography.” Abbott herself considered these some of her most “realistic” work. In 1946, Abbott wrote, “To me photography is a means, perhaps the best means of our age—of widening knowledge of our world. Photography is a method of education, for acquainting people of all ages and condition with the truth about life today.” With birthday wishes and gratitude to Abbott for her contribution to the fields of photography and science, here is a brief slide show of some magnificent images that represent properties and phenomena of physics.