Berenice Abbott was born in Ohio, and moved to New York in 1918. In 1921, she moved to Europe, specifically Paris and for a brief time, Berlin, to study sculpture. While she is there, she meets Man Ray, a visual artist and photographer, who makes her a photography assistant. Man Ray would later encourage Abbott to take her own photos, and thus start her own photography career. Soon after, she had her first exhibition in Paris, 1926. It was a collection of portraits of Parisian avant-garde, called ‘Portraits Photographiques’.
While she was at Man Ray’s studio, she saw photos by Eugene Atget, and was impressed by what she saw. Abbott would eventually find and meet Atget, and take a photo of him. Unfortunately, some time after Abbott developed the photo, Atget passed away. Abbott would then spend time acquiring and promoting Atget’s work.
In 1929, Abbott would return to New York City, and start documenting the city. However, the Great Depression had started, and she found it hard to sustain herself through her portrait studio. Abbott would apply and receive funding for “Changing New York Project” from Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. The project would be centered on the growth and transformation of New York City from 1935 to 1939. This would become her most popular photography collection.
After completing her project, Abbott would go on to publish “A Guide to Better Photography”. She would go on to photograph for several high school science textbooks.
In the late 1950’s, Berenice Abbott would move to Maine, and start another photography collection there, called ‘A Portrait of Maine’, which focused on the logging practices and the culture of mid 1960’s Maine.