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Seventh Avenue (Wall Street District)
Seventh Avenue (Wall Street District)

Changing New York

In 1929, after eight years in Europe, photographer Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) returned to New York City for what was planned as a short visit. During her absence, hundreds of 19th-century buildings had been razed to make way for dozens of skyscrapers. The unprecedented building boom inspired Abbott to give up her thriving Parisian portrait practice to photograph the new face of New York.

Soon after her return, the Stock Market crashed and the Depression began. For five years, Abbott struggled to pursue her project, reserving Wednesdays to photograph New York City. In 1935, the Federal Art Project offered her support: it gave her a $145 monthly salary, a field assistant, research assistants, a secretary, and a car. By 1940, Abbott had completed “Changing New York,” one of the monumental achievements of 20th-century photography.

When the Federal Art Project budget was cut in 1939, Abbott lost her job.  She completed her project by creating two sets of 305 exhibition prints for her sponsor, the Museum of the City of New York, and a partial set for the New York State Museum. On view are the State Museum’s 40 prints, supplemented with enlargements from the Museum of the City of New York’s collection.