James Joyce1928 by Berenice Abbott

Abbott (1898-1991) was no stranger to misfortune.

Consider Berenice Abbott's 1928 photo of James Joyce. It is one of the greatest portrait photographs ever taken. Yet Abbot was referred to as a "girl" photographer when she was in her forties over a decade later. Had she been a man, Abbott would have been compared to Gainsborough or Ingres.

In the 20’s she moved to Paris where she worked as an assistant to the very famous artist Man Ray and she started working on photography in 1923. Later, she wrote: “I took to photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to do anything else.” Ray was impressed by her darkroom work and allowed her to use his studio to take her own photographs. She got the opportunity to photograph all the prominent personalities of the time such as James Joyce and Jean Cocteau. Sylvia Bleach, the woman behind the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, once said: “To be ‘done’ by Man Ray or Berenice Abbott meant you rated as somebody”.

Berenice Abbott opened a photographic portrait studio in Paris in 1926 after having worked for three years as an assistant to Man Ray, whom she had met in New York. Although her Paris portraits are indebted stylistically to Man Ray's, she brought to them a sympathetic eye that was very much her own. Her portraits of women are notable for their empathic understanding of her subjects, but she reached a depth of expression in her photographs of James Joyce (1882-1941). Abbott photographed Joyce on two occasions, the first in 1926 at his home, the second in 1928 at her studio, as was her more customary practice.
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