Berenice Abbott, American, 1898 - 1991
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Not currently on view
Paris, France (Place created)
negative 1924 - 1925; print about 1950
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 17.3 cm (9 1/4 x 6 13/16 in.)
The three amiable women posing in the doorway of a dilapidated building convey an image of friendship and leisure. Their mid-length dresses and covered legs belie the fact that they are prostitutes. Although Eugène Atget was commissioned to photograph prostitutes in 1921 by a customer writing a book on the subject, scholars have not explained his return to the subject in 1924.
Berenice Abbott, who diligently worked to purchase many of Atget's negatives and prints after his death in 1927, printed this image about twenty-five years after Atget made the photograph. Abbott once remarked that "the photographs heralded as art in France in the early part of the century were the worst arty pictorials that existed anywhere." Especially offensive to Abbott was the way photographers presented their female subjects as inane pictures of the "pretty." In Atget's work, everyone from small shopkeepers to tradesmen and prostitutes was treated with dignity, an approach that Abbott defined as the "shock of realism."