Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography
by Julia Van Haaften
W. W. Horton. 634 pages, $45.
BERENICE ABBOTT was a larger-than-life photographer who captured the architecture of New York City, as well as some of its noteworthy inhabitants, from the 1930s to the 1960s and beyond. Julia Van Haaften, founding curator of the New York Public Library’s photography collection, has written a monumental biography of Abbott’s life, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that’s brimming with facts and anecdotes about her subject’s life.
Abbott (1898–1991) grew up in a working-class family in the Midwest. She fled her home as soon as possible and set off on a journey of self-discovery and self-creation as an artist. Van Haaften traces in detail Abbott’s evolution as a photographer. We learn that her initial interest was sculpture and that this later morphed into curiosity about making photographs.