Regarding New York
F. Javier Rodríguez Barberán
Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place, 1936
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
© Getty Images / Berenice Abbott
New York is a key milestone in the creation of the cultural landscape of the 20th century and the project which Abbot encapsulates in her book entitled Changing New York demonstrates a fascinating kaleidoscope of the metropolis. It is in dialog with her peers and also speaks to future generations. When we see the buildings under construction it is wonderful to observe the images of daily life of Lewis Hine at the same time, also epic photographs in their own right. The city and its people break down the divide between the stage and the actors, filling the frames with stories that literature and especially cinema have made so familiar to those of us who have never visited the city: because New York is also, or perhaps above all, a place that has been frequently filmed, from King Vidor to Allen and Scorsese.
Perhaps the highly diverse nature of the place in comparison with the European World is what Abbot manages to depict perfectly. Because Abbott, who crossed the Atlantic and then came back, is all too aware that Manhattan is not Paris and that her work will never be like the work of Eugène Atget, whom she admired greatly. New York is defining what several decades later the architect Rem Koolhaas will come to call the “culture of congestion”, “Manhattanism” as an ideology, made up of a dense network in which architecture rises up and gets lost in the sky and where stories intertwine. However, it is wonderful to lose oneself in the photographs where this density is not down to the buildings but rather the signs: signs that clutter up the sidewalks, windows displays and stores full of posters and products… In a very sincere way, Atget, once again, and Walker Evans seem to shake hands in the work of Berenice Abbott, who depicts a city that will undoubtedly leave an impression on its visitors. Perhaps the soft strains of an old tune will follow them to the exhibition hall entrance, because as Cole Porter wrote: I happen to like New York.