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Early Photographs of Paris and New York are Focus of Art Museum Exhibit

(Posted September 24, 2001)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The work of two early 20th century photographers, Eugene Atget and Berenice Abbott, both of whom used the camera to document the changing history of their native cities, will be on display from Sept. 28 through Nov. 3 at the Juniata College Museum of Art.

There will be an opening reception for the exhibition Friday, Sept. 28 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Eugene Atget, a French photographer who recorded more than 10,000 photographs of Paris during his career, and Berenice Abbott, who befriended Atget in Paris and was so influenced by his work that she decided to document New York City through her own photographs, are linked stylistically and through their friendship.

Atget was born in 1857 and pursued careers as an actor and painter before discovering photography at the age of 40 in 1898. Unlike many early photographers, he did not take portraits, but concentrated on scenes from the streets -- storefronts, parks, laborers and other street scenes.

"Atget is an important figure in early photography because he made pictures that were direct and pure," explains Phillip Earenfight, director of the Juniata College Museum of Art. "These photographs did not try to imitate the poses or compositions of Old Master-style oil paintings."

Using old equipment and operating on a shoestring budget, Atget documented Paris for nearly 30 years. American photographer Ansel Adams, who was influenced by Atget, said his work "represents perhaps the earliest expression of true photgraphic art."

During his career, Atget had befriended the surrealist artist Man Ray, who employed Berenice Abbott as his photographic assistant. Abbott was deeply influenced by Atget's documentary approach to photography, and when he died in 1927 she bought and preserved the older man's prints and negatives, launching a campaign to preserve his work.

Abbott, born in Springfield, Ohio in 1898, began her photographic career in Paris in 1923, working as Ray's assistant. When she returned to New York City at the end of the 1920s, she decided to singlehandedly document New York City throughout the 1930s, much in the same way Atget had photographed Paris. She published "Changing New York" in 1939, which depicts America's largest city using spare, modern compositions.

Later in her career, Abbott was commissioned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to illustrate physics textbooks. Her photographs of soap bubbles, wave patterns and light beams have become influential for other artists. During her long career, she invented several new photographic techniques and built and patented several new cameras. She died in 1991.

The Juniata College Museum of Art is located in historic Carnegie Hall at 17th and Moore streets in Huntingdon. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. For more information, please call the museum at (814) 641-3505, or visit the Juniata College Web site at http://www.juniata.edu/museum.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.