"This photograph has always interested me; it was taken from Broadway, on about the tenth floor of a building that placed me as near as possible to looking straight down the street. I had devised a very low tripod that I used for shooting out of windows; it had adjustable legs and could be used on windowsills, holding my large Century Universal securely. It was used here." –Berenice Abbott, American Photographer
DRAMATIC NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPH SIGNED BY BERENICE ABBOTT; IN UNUSUAL AND EVOCATIVE VERTICAL FORMAT.
In this claustrophobic view of Exchange Place, Berenice Abbott (American, 1898 - 1991) focuses on the newly built skyscrapers looming over New York City. To achieve the heightened perspective Abbott cropped the sides of a negative taken in 1933, which was an unusual decision for her. While Abbott’s peers and artists affiliated with both the avant-garde and the Art Deco movements occasionally cropped their photos to create a desired mood, Abbott herself rarely did. Here she creates the sensation of an urban canyon in the financial district of New York City. Shafts of light from the cross streets punctuate the walls of skyscrapers and illuminate the pedestrians, who appear as little more than ants.
Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio, and in 1918 moved to New York to study sculpture. By 1921 she was studying in Paris and shortly thereafter joined the Man Ray Studio as a darkroom assistant. The experience introduced her to photography, and quickly she mastered the medium. It was through Man Ray’s studio that in 1925 Abbott first saw the photographs of Eugène Atget (French, 1857 - 1927), the fin-de-siècle French photographer who documented the changing architecture and street scenes of Paris. Atget’s photographs of Paris profoundly influenced how Abbott saw the changing urban environment.
When Abbott returned to New York City in 1929 she found the city in the throes of growth. Fueled by the financial bubble of the 1920s, the cityscape of New York was rapidly transforming. Abbott began chronicling the changing face of the city through Changing New York, a photography book that was a critical and commercial success and remains a key text for historians of photography. Initially the project resembled how Atget had photographed old-world Paris, but Abbott’s personal touch differed from her mentor. She photographed the elevated train tracks, brownstones, parks, and family businesses from the sidewalk and then climbed the city’s newest skyscrapers to show what the city looked like from above. View of Exchange Place is representative of Abbot’s work in that it shows a city at a turning point in which man-made structures would forever dwarf its inhabitants.
Prints of View of Exchange Place can be found in several museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago among others.
Provenance: Sotheby's November 9, 1982 (lot 103); Swann Galleries, New York, October 18, 2018 (lot 127).
Size: Image/Sheet size 19 3/8 x 4 7/8 in.; Mount size 28 x 11 1/8 in.
Gelatin silver print, taken 1933-34; printed 1980's. Signed by Abbott on lower right mount, with Abbott's "Abbot, Maine" hand stamp on mount verso; matted (but unframed). Fine condition.
Price: $8,500 .