that all good photographs are documents, but I also know that all
documents are certainly not good photographs. Furthermore, a good
photographer does not merely document, he probes the subject, he
Berenice Abbott photographed the
Fuller building, nicknamed "the Flatiron," from the top floor
of a six-story commercial building nearby. For Abbott, the 20th-century
invention of photography was the perfect way to document the 20th century.
"I believe there is no more creative medium than photography to recreate
the living world of our time," she wrote. "Photography gladly
accepts the challenge because it is at home in its element: namely, realismreal
lifethe now." ("Photography at the Crossroads"
1951) For many New Yorkers the unusual Flatiron building was a symbol
of modern life, technology, and architecture.
Abbotts photograph of the Flatiron demonstrates her principles
of documentary photography: it serves as a record for the future and has
content, or meaning. But Abbott did not intend her content to express
feelings. "People say they have to express their emotions. Im
sick of that." Abbott told an Art News magazine writer. "Photography
doesnt teach you how to express your emotions; it teaches you how
to see." (Art News, January 1981)