19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
This book is a great choice for those who love great photography, Berenice Abbott fans, those who are interested in the history of New York in the 1930s, and those who would like to enjoy a little nostalgia about their formative years in that magnificent city.
Berenice Abbott returned from 8 years in Europe at age 30 in January 1929, planning on a short stay. Instead, she was transfixed by the changes in the New York City scene, and became obsessed by the opportunity to capture it photographically. For the next 10 years this was her focus.
During the depths of the Depression, she was able to obtain a grant from the WPA to work with the Museum of the City of New York to create an exhaustive photographic essay of the city. This book contains the finest flowers of that remarkable assignment in 305 black and white photographs, a biographical essay about Abbott, maps of where the photographs were taken, and extensive notes on the locations and the photographic perspectives used.
The biographical essay was made more interesting by describing Abbott's strenuous financial and promotional efforts to support Atget's collection, while staving off poverty herself. The many fights over how to do the New York City project also make good reading as background for the images. Independent by nature, that quality of Abbott's probably improved the result in this case.
The presentation of the images is organized around the different geographical sections of Manhattan and the other boroughs, especially Brooklyn. As a result, you get a sense of neighborhoods as well as of individual images and locations.
As someone who learned photography from Man Ray, Abbott is a good student of abstract methods, and she subtly captures the surreal and the predominant design feeling contained in these subjects. Her works that are most like Man Ray's were the ones that most attracted me. I am very impressed by the encyclopedic knowledge that she must have developed of New York City to locate so many rewarding sights for us to consider.
My only quibble about the book was that in some sections the reproduction was too dark, so that details were unnecessarily lost that would have been of interest. But the page sizes were good for the images being presented, the design is solid, and the overall print quality was good.
My favorite images in the book were:
Immigration Building, Ellis Island
Theoline, Pier 11, East River
Tugboats, Pier 11, East River
Brooklyn Bridge with Pier 21, Pennsylvania Railroad
Hot Dog Stand
Wrought Iron Ornament
Doorway, 204 West 13th Street
Fifth Avenue Theatre, Orchestra, Boxes, First and Second Balconies
Father Duffy [wrapped like a Christo], Times Square
Gramercy Park West, Nos. 3-4
J.P. Morgan House
Murray Hill Hotel, Spiral
Watuppa, from Brooklyn Waterfront
Even though your photography may not be as good as you like, there is a lot of human value in making such a pictoral history of where you live. You can use this volume to get ideas for compositions and shooting angles. In this way, you can deepen your appreciation for Abbott's work.
Capture the important truths around you for all to see!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 1997
This book is wonderful. The author has produced a perfect book. It is very faithful to Abbott's vision. Abbott has an unerring eye. Notice all the signage. It is everywhere. On sides of buildings. In windows. Above buildings on the roof. By comparison, we live in a visually impoverished age.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 1997
This book is a fascinating pictorial history of New York during the '30s as shown through the beautiful duotone plates that Bernice Abbott took between 1935-1939. These pictures were taken as part of the Work's Progress Administration sponsorship of the arts. The clarity of the pictures combined with the excellent reproduction in the book makes this a must have for anyone who wants to see exactly what New York was like right after the Depression and before the war. It is like stepping back in time and seeing life as it was. The high contrast of the plates brings out tremendous details and these pictures beg for closer examination to really pick up the feel of the era - the signs in the windows for 10 cent haircuts or the hardware store with all of the goods splayed out on the street with handmade signs showing the prices. All of this adds to the visual wonder of this book. This book is far more than a coffee table edition. It is a reference unlike any other about New York.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2000
Granted this is an expensive book (or the hardback edition is), but to anyone interested in what New York City looked like in the latter half of the 30's, or fans of Abbott's work, or of WPA photography, it's well worth it. You'll notice details here that you missed in the Dover reprint "New York in the Thirties" and there are many more photos here as well, quite a few seeing publication for the first time. There's loads of ancillary information too, including maps that indicate exactly where in New York each photo was taken. This book is a treasurehouse.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2009
I loved this book so much, that I gave it to a dear old friend as a gift. She is almost 80 years old and I knew it would be a nice trip down memory lane for her. I'm considerably younger, but there are many places in New York that I remember that are no longer there. This book does a great job with presenting photos then and now along with the history of the site and what's happened to it over the years. We should all be grateful to Ms. Abbott for capturing the best of the city at a time when it was so young. Never innocent, but that's what makes this town so special.
Another great read, Forgotten New York by Kevin Walsh, is a kind of recent version of this type of book in that there are tons of great photos of areas and structures in all five boroughs of New York that are still here but on the way to being demolished or lost forever (old abandoned buildings, "ghost advertising signs" on walls, overgrown private cemeteries, etc.). It makes you want to visit every place he writes about so you can experience a bit of history for yourself before it's gone forever.
Photo histories of New York are always great nostalgic reads and I think Changing New York makes a wonderful addition to anyone's collection.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2010
Great book of a great photographer! Extremely well organized: New York divided into different sides with crucial particularity of the city. It seems like you walk along New York streets!!! Skyscrapers above you, buildings behind you, people around....
A real museum to admire! Berenice's click makes you part of it!
Very recommended item!