Night View1932 by Berenice Abbott

From atop the Empire State Building, Abbott created this incredible photographic image. The photo shoot took place on the shortest day of the year in December 1932. Abbott had chosen the date and time with strategic skill. The evening darkness having descended while the offices in nearby buildings were still open for business, Abbott was able to capture an entire constellation of electric lights, visible evidence of thousands of people at work.

Considerable expertise was involved in staging this photographic coup. Abbott carefully made a fifteen minute-long exposure to capture this one single, dazzling moment. She positioned her camera looking north from the Empire State Building. We see the classical columns of the Greenwich Savings Bank (1352 Broadway), which still stands, renamed The Haier Building. The old Sixth Avenue El runs through Abbott's photo and if you look closely you can make out the rails on the elevated platform. The El was demolished a few years after Abbott took this photo, replaced by the subway and midtown automobile congestion.

It's amazing to think that this photo was taken nearly nine decades ago. The fifteen minutes that Abbott devoted to taking this photo produced an immortal masterpiece dealing with a lot more than the laws of optics or New York City architecture.

If you view Night View, New York with "your flexible human vision" it is possible to peer through the glare of each of those glimmering lights into the offices and into the lives of those long-ago New Yorkers. That is only a slight exaggeration because the sharpness of Abbott's exposure does indeed permit a degree of detail that reaches almost to the doors and windows of the offices surrounding the Empire State Building.

...a flexible human vision can serve both the photographer and the viewer of the photograph as both focus ever more intently into the human drama before them.

Adjust the setting of your flexible human vision and you will be able to look inside and with insight - inside the lighted offices, insight into the people who make cities live . Time will be no barrier. Bernice Abbott's Night View, New York is a masterwork for the ages.

...Berenice Abbott may have passed the baton to new generations of American photographers but she never ceased to be a remarkable artist in her own right. Moreover, she maintained her open-eyed, pragmatic "hands-on" approach to photography.

"In the search for art the subject gets lost," Abbott declared. "In the search for a subject one finds art."

As long as she lived, Berenice Abbott viewed the world with the flexible human vision that had enabled her to photograph Night View, New York. This was how she looked at the glittering Manhattan skyline on a cold December evening long ago. This is why the photo Abbott created in 1932 still seems as if she took it yesterday.
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