Fantastic, Rare Photos of New York City in the 1930s by Berenice Abbott

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Berenice Abbott was an American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography of New York City.


She heavily focused her shooting on the the City’s architecture and makeup during the 1930s. Earning acclaim as a portrait photographer in 1920s Paris, Ms. Abbott returned to the United States in 1929. When she saw the growth New York had endured during her time away, she knew she had to document it’s change going forward. She got support from The Museum of the City of New York and funding from the Public Works Administration. She called her project “Changing New York.” Her first photographs of the city were taken with a hand-held Kurt-Bentzin camera. Soon after she acquired a Century Universal camera which produced 8 x 10 inch negatives. Using this large format camera, Ms. Abbott photographed New York City with the diligence and attention to detail. Her work has provided a historical chronicle of many now-destroyed buildings and neighborhoods of Manhattan.


Ms. Abbott was one of the founding members of a style that would later come to be known as the “New York School of Photography,” which refers to a loosely defined group of photographers who lived and worked in New York City during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s sharing influences, subjects and stylistic earmarks. These photographers would capture life in New York not as “the big city,” but as a collection of neighborhoods, people, and emotions that would later define what we now consider top of mind when thinking about some of the defining characteristics of New York City. It was the bright lights of Coney Island, the hustle and bustle on the Manhattan sidewalk, the stroll in Central Park, and the language of the streets that interested these photographers. The men and women of this—artists like Ruth Orkin, Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas , Ted Croner, and Vivian Maier—captured an era that helped define who we are today. We measure our legends in New York City by how well someone lasts the test of time. Berenice Abbott continues to influence several generations of photographers long after her death. I would guess that she will continue to do so long after people consciously realize it’s she who influenced their photographic techniques.


These photographs were shot by Ms. Abbott Between 1933 and 1938.


Above: “El” Second and Third Avenue Lines, Bowery and Division Street, Manhattan, 1936

Below:  Gansevort Street No. 53, Manhattan 1936



Exchange Place, Manhattan, 1933




Warehouse, Water and Sock Streets, Brooklyn, 1936



Church of God, 25 East 132nd Street, Manhattan, 1936



Vista from West Street, 1938



Greyhound Bus Terminal 244-248 West 34th Street, and 245-249 West 33rd Street, Manhattan, 1936





[These photos are courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of the City of New York. Special thanks to the Mrs. Elon Hooker Acquisition Fund. Some above text cited from Our Town: Images and Stories from The Museum of the City of New York, page 174 ]