March 11, 2012

Berenice Abbott at the Jeu de Paume

To continue our week's focus on visual arts, we introduce the new exhibit of the American photographer Berenice Abbott at the Jeu de Paume. Women photographers were a minority in the early days of photography, and the ones who rose to the challenge were exceptionally strong personalities with unique perspectives.

Berenice Abbott was no exception. Born in 1898, she came to Paris in 1921, studied sculpture, experimented with photography, and worked with Man Ray before opening her own portrait studio in 1926. She photographed the heart of the avant-garde scene, including American expatriates, bohemians, and the literary community. Influenced heavily by surrealism, her subjects were often in disguise, or in dramatic light with strong graphic backgrounds, or distorted in her printing process.

Jean Cocteau (1926)
When she returned to New York City in the early 1930s, she launched a "documentary portrait" of the city ... to show the diversity of people at work and play, as well as the contrast of old and the new and how these forces are integrally linked. Like Eugene Atget, whom she greatly admired, her diligence and attention to detail provided a historical record as well as an artistic interpretation of a changing city. Her honest camera showed moments of destruction as well as reconstruction.

In the summer of 1935, Abbott took to the road to capture America through its people and their habitats (farms, diners, bars, and dance halls). She went first to the southern U.S. and later along Route 1 of the east coast creating images that documented life during that difficult period. And, in the 1950s, she produced a remarkable series of photographs as she documented the laws of physics.

Throughout these varied projects, she remained true to her art. "Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone; it has to be itself."

The Berenice Abbott exhibit at the Jeu de Paume includes 120 photographs as well as books and documents never before exhibited. It runs until 29 April.

Avoid the long lines for this popular exhibit and join the special WICE guided tour on Tuesday evening, March 13 at 18h45. For more information, click here.

Posted by Meredith Mullins.
Photographs courtesy of Jeu de Paume press site/Ronald Kurtz/Commerce Graphics © Berenice Abbott.