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Berenice Abbott Photographs
at The Wolfsonian–FIU

Berenice Abbott Photographsat The Wolfsonian–FIU
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Beach Photographer with Ferdinand the Bull, Daytona Beach, Florida, 1954
Berenice Abbott (1898–1991)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of Syracuse University Art Collection

 

In 1954, photographer Berenice Abbott journeyed along the length of U.S. Route 1, capturing the road, its towns, and inhabitants. From Florida motels made out of buses to Maine potato farmers, Abbott documented communities up and down the East Coast. During the trip, Abbott shot more than four hundred 8×10-inch photographs, and over two thousand smaller images using her Rolleiflex camera, representing her largest portfolio of photographs devoted to a single subject.  North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 is a selection of 50 works from this series, which is mostly unknown. Shot from Key West, Florida to Fort Kent, Maine, it presents a singular visual summary of American life in the 1950s, from scenes of peach picking, dancing, and alligator wrestling to candid portraits of potato and tobacco farmers. The photographs will be exhibited at The Wolfsonian–FIU from June 9 through October 8, 2017.

The exhibition is organized by the Syracuse University Art Collection and presented in tandem with The Long Road to Now: Digital Photos Inspired by Berenice Abbott’s Road Trip, an installation of contemporary photography developed in partnership with Instagram forum #JJ Community.

“I think almost more than any other work she did, this (Route 1) really got to the heart of what she was interested in illustrating, which was the sense of a changing landscape through photographs that were truly objective in their presentation,” said David Prince, associate director & curator of collections at SUArt Galleries, who curated North and South. “Construction of the country’s interstate highway system was underway and Abbott wanted to document the historic character of the East Coast while it survived.”

 

Row of Houses, Waycross, Georgia, 1954
Berenice Abbott (1898–1991)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of Syracuse University Art Collection

 

Celebrated for her no-frills approach to photography, Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) built a career as a documentarian, preferring to thoughtfully frame and focus each shot on site rather than manipulate negatives back in the studio. After honing her craft under the tutelage of Man Ray, Abbott established her name through a few distinct photo series: portraiture of Paris’ cultural avant-garde, the evolving urban landscape of New York City, and scientific photography.

Throughout all, she balanced an artful eye with a straightforward, factual approach.

 

Roadsign, Route 1, Maine, 1954
Berenice Abbott (1898–1991)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of Syracuse University Art Collection

 

Armed for the first time with a portable Rolleiflex camera, Abbott’s road trip in 1954 marked a shift in theme as much as a continuation of style. As in her previous work, the vistas and vignettes of North and South are presented without staging or editorializing — faithfully recording the daily life of Americans as the country was changing, without idealization or nostalgia, criticism or commentary. Many of the images capture the working class and reflect the diverse character of regions along the Eastern seaboard.

“North and South fits perfectly into the Wolfsonian approach of highlighting the human experience in the modern age,” said assistant curator Whitney Richardson, who is organizing The Wolfsonian’s presentation of the exhibition. “These photographs are incredibly revealing when it comes to the layers of history that exist in a particular place at a particular moment. We’re thrilled to bring Berenice Abbott’s work to a Miami audience, in a city where Route 1 still plays a major role in shaping day-to-day life.”

In tandem with the exhibition, The Wolfsonian will host a suite of dynamic programs including a road trip-themed film and tour series, a family-friendly event, and public and member workshops with contemporary photojournalists and street photographers.

North and South has previously traveled to the High Museum of Art; Hillwood Art Museum; Museum of Art, University of Maine, Orono; Museum of Our National Heritage; and the Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona State College.

 

Photo: Julie Voisin.

 

In addition to the Abbott exhibition, The Wolfsonian–FIU and #JJ Community have partnered to launch a social media challenge and installation of photography that takes its cues from the work of Abbott. From over 7,000 entries submitted via Instagram, fifteen finalists have been chosen to be featured in The Long Road to Now: Digital Photos Inspired by Berenice Abbott’s Road Trip, on view in The Wolfsonian–FIU lobby from June 9 through October 8, 2017. Both the contemporary installation and the historic exhibition are grounded in a shared interest in documenting everyday scenes, and capture a spirit of adventurous exploration.

#JJ Community brings together professional and amateur photographers to foster collaboration under the mission to “create to connect.” Through daily themed Instagram posts on their handle @jjcommunity, #JJ ignites creativity and fuels the next generation of emerging photographic artists.

“Visual storytelling has become democratized through smartphones and new digital tools,” said #JJ Community CEO Kevin Kuster. “Because of this, we’re now experiencing a renaissance in photography and witnessing an incredible standard of quality in our images unlike ever before. Any one of us can now open doors to our inner artistic voice in unprecedented ways — no longer limited by technology, but only by our imagination.”

Added Tim Rodgers, Wolfsonian director: “In this day and age, with so many millions of images shared, consumed, and quickly forgotten online, we’re excited to extend these ephemeral moments for the chance at deeper reflection. The fifteen stunning works, each so carefully considered and skillfully executed, are right at home when seen in conversation with Abbott’s iconic images.”

 

Photo: Svetlana Schvindt.

 

The winning submissions fall under three themes: Signage, Classic, and Road Trip, each derived from motifs found in North and South, which chronicles Abbott’s 1954 journey along U.S. Route 1. While Abbott’s black-and-white photography depicted a changing America — at a moment when one major East Coast highway system was bypassing another — her mostly digital counterparts portray visions of daily life around the globe, usually in full color. Artists from Lisbon, Paris, Yekaterinburg, Milan, Chicago, New York, and beyond all demonstrate a keen eye for composition, style, and artfulness similar to their mid-century muse. From nighttime car window snapshots, mirror reflections, and views of international landmarks to poignant candid shots and epic landscapes, these photographers have left their mark on social media’s visual dialogue about the world we live in today.

 

Photo: Toby Baldinger.

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