New York Stock Exchange

1933, printed later
Silver Gelatin Photograph

Signed in pencil on mount recto; the photographer’s Abbott, Maine stamp on mount verso.

New York Stock Exchange (executed in 1933, printed later) was one of the photographs that belonged to the Changing New York project. The black and white photograph shows the New York Stock Exchange building in Manhattan from a diagonal, wide view, with the sun lighting up the building. As the photograph is taken from afar, the viewer is able to get a sense of the grandeur of the architecture, and its scale to the pedestrians, creating the sense that the building is towering over the passer by. By using light at a certain angle, Abbott creates the illusion of constant change which allude to the fast pace of the city, a city which she describes as ‘… of incredible contrasts, of stone needles and skyscrapers, the city that is never the same, but always changing.’

The way Abbott explores composition in this photograph and its elements through lines, proportion and distance also creates a certain dramatism within the scene. She leaves the bottom of the photograph blurred, guiding the viewer’s eye towards the central subject; the stock exchange building which appears to have a larger-than-life effect. Such strategic scaling can also be seen as a symbol of New York and the power it held at a time of great transformation when the photograph was taken. Spotlighting the Stock Exchange building, Abbott quite metaphorically underlines the idea of money, and its weight and force over society. New York was the financial capital of the country.

Abbott’s Changing New York series is also a key example of the straight photography movement. The movement stressed the importance of photographs being unmanipulated both in its subject matter and developing processes. Abbott believed that a modern day invention, such as the camera should be used to document the very century it was invented in, and therefore document the times. In Photographers on Photography : A Critical Anthology by Nathan Lyons, Abbott elaborates on the idea saying;

‘Like every other means of expression, photography, if it is to be utterly honest and direct, should be related to the life of the times – the pulse of today…The photograph… to merit serious consideration, must be directly connected with the world we live in.’

Her photographs of New York, were, in fact, directly connected to the times. They portrayed scenes of a modern city, a growing metropolis through Abbott’s realist vision.

A Realist Record and a Work of Art

Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York series still remains as some of the best known photographs of the city of the 20th century. A master in documentation, Abbott was one of the very first artists to introduce the idea of how a photograph could be used as both a realist record, and also a work of art. Her crystalline black and white images became an ode to the city which the artist spent the majority of her life living in. Terminating the project in 1939, Abbott moved on to explore different subjects, of which science photography played a large role.