History And Context
Berenice Abbott learned photography from the artist Man Ray when she was his studio assistant in Paris in 1923-1925. It was in Paris where Man Ray introduced her to the work of Eugène Atget, in whose work she was instantly inspired. Upon her return to New York, she viewed the city through a new lens and began to photograph and document the city’s changing skyline in the 1930s. Abbott favored a straightforward, yet dynamic style that featured strong contrasts and dramatic angles. She published her photographs in 1939 as a book entitled Changing New York, which contained 305 photographs supported by historical data. New York at Night, one of the photographs from that project, depicts a birds-eye view of the city looking north from the upper 30s on the West Side. Abbott captured the energy and vitality of the metropolis at night in this dramatic photograph.
New York at Night is the second work from Abbott’s series Changing New York to enter The Phillips Collection. It is a great companion to the other example, Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place, which depicts a dramatic view looking up at the tops of three skyscrapers, and it is complementary to the other urban-inspired paintings and photographs in the museum collection.