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Abbott and Steiglitz

Do Photographs Ever Lie?

"I agree 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 ‘uncovers’ it …"

—Berenice Abbott,

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, realism—real life—the now." ("Photography at the Crossroads" 1951) For many New Yorkers the unusual Flatiron building was a symbol of modern life, technology, and architecture.

Abbott’s 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. I’m sick of that." Abbott told an Art News magazine writer. "Photography doesn’t teach you how to express your emotions; it teaches you how to see." (Art News, January 1981)

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts