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New York in 1929
Berenice Abbott knew Eugene Atget for only a few months before he died, but from the moment she saw his photographs of Paris—streets, people, buildings and storefronts—she knew she had found something special. She bought Atget’s entire collection, more than 1,000 glass negatives and 7,000 prints, and brought them to the United States to promote them to museums, galleries, and art and photography magazines.

When Berenice Abbott arrived in New York in 1929 with Atget’s photos, she was planning on a three-week visit. She had been living in Europe for eight years, where she had an established and successful photography business. But what she saw in New York took her breath away. Unbelievable wealth and heart-breaking poverty; cars, trains and trolleys among horse-drawn milk carts; straight-sided skyscrapers soaring up around old ramshackle buildings; rectangles everywhere; an intense machine of a city. Abbott never returned to Paris. Instead she began photographing New York just as Atget had photographed Paris. She wanted to make a photographic record of this city of contrasts. But Abbott would photograph New York in her own way, imposing her love of facts and her belief that photography, a twentieth-century invention, was the only medium worthy of capturing twentieth-century New York. She set up a studio in Manhattan and spent the next ten years photographing New York.

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts