Berenice Abbott is to American photography as Georgia O’Keeffe is to painting or Willa Cather to letters. She was a photographer of astounding innovation and artistry, a pioneer in both her personal and professional life. Abbott’s sixty-year career established her not only as a master of American photography, but also as a teacher, writer, archivist, and inventor. Famously reticent in public, Abbott’s fascinating life has long remained a mystery—until now.
In Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography, author, archivist, and curator Julia Van Haaften brings this iconic public figure to life alongside outlandish, familiar characters from artist Man Ray to cybernetics founder Norbert Wiener. A teenage rebel from Ohio, Abbott escaped first to Greenwich Village and then to Paris—photographing, in Sylvia Beach’s words, "everyone who was anyone." As the Roaring Twenties ended, Abbott returned to New York, where she soon fell in love with art critic Elizabeth McCausland, with whom she would spend thirty years.
In the 1930s, Abbott began her best-known work, Changing New York, in which she fearlessly documented the city’s metamorphosis. When warned by an older male supervisor that "nice girls" avoid the Bowery—then Manhattan’s skid row—Abbott shot back, "I’m not a nice girl. I’m a photographer…I go anywhere." This bold, feminist attitude would characterize all Abbott’s accomplishments, including imaging techniques she invented in her influential, space race–era science photography and her tenure as The New School’s first photography teacher.
With more than ninety stunning photos, this sweeping, cinematic biography secures Berenice Abbott’s place in the histories of photography and modern art, while framing her incredible accomplishments as a female artist and entrepreneur.
From self-taught immigrant kid to newshound to art-world darling to latter-day caricature—moving from the dangerous streets of New York City to the celebrity culture of Los Angeles and then to Europe for a quixotic late phase of experimental photography and filmmaking—Weegee lived a life just as worthy of documentation as the scenes he captured. With Flash, we have an unprecedented and ultimately moving view of the man now regarded as an innovator and a pioneer, an artist as well as a newsman, whose photographs are among most powerful images of urban existence ever made.
Diane Arbus brings to life the full story of one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century, a visionary who revolutionized photography and altered the course of contemporary art with her striking, now iconic images. Arbus comes startlingly to life on these pages, a strong-minded child of unnerving originality who grew into a formidable artist and forged an intimacy with her subjects that has inspired generations of artists. Arresting, unsettling, and poignant, her photographs stick in our minds. Why did these people fascinate her? And what was it about her that captivated them?
It is impossible to understand the transfixing power of Arbus’s photographs without understanding her life story. Arthur Lubow draws on exclusive interviews with Arbus’s friends, lovers, and colleagues, on previously unknown letters, and on his own profound critical understanding of photography, to explore Arbus’s unique perspective. He deftly traces Arbus’s development from a wealthy, sexually precocious free spirit into first a successful New York fashion photographer, and then a singular artist who coaxed hidden truths from her subjects. Lubow reveals that Arbus’s profound need not only to see her subjects but to be seen by them drove her to forge unusually close bonds with these people, helping her discover the fantasies, pain, and heroism within each of them.
Diane Arbus is the definitive biography of this unique, hugely influential artist. This magnificently absorbing, sensitive treatment of a singular personality brushes aside the clichés that have long surrounded Arbus and her work to capture a brilliant portrait of this seminal artist whose work has immeasurably shaped art and modern culture.
Lubow’s Diane Arbus finally does justice to Arbus, and brings to life the story and art of one of the greatest American artists in history.
Diane Arbus includes a 16-page black-and-white photo insert.