overview

Noted photographer Berenice Abbott lived here with her partner, the influential art critic Elizabeth McCausland, from 1935 to 1965.

Abbott is best known for her 1930s photographs featured in the iconic book Changing New York, but was also a sought-after portraitist.

Header Photo

Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

On the Map

 
Photo Above

Berenice Abbott in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown.

History

From 1935 to 1965, photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) and art critic Elizabeth McCausland (1899-1965) lived and worked in two flats they shared on the fourth floor of this loft building at 50 Commerce Street.

Around the time of her move here, Abbott received funding from the Federal Art Project (a division of the Works Progress Administration) for her “Changing New York” series, which she had informally begun in 1929 to document the ever-changing city. For the next three years, she took hundreds of photographs of city life and architecture in all five boroughs. Abbott printed over 300 images for the finished project, the now-classic book Changing New York (1939).

“[Berenice Abbott] provided an invaluable historical record of the physical appearance of the city at a time when it was undergoing rapid transformation. … Her pictures…provide a remarkably thorough record of the city in all its diversity.”
The New York Times, 1991 obituary

Abbott was also a sought-after portraitist. Among her lesbian subjects were New Yorker writer Janet Flanner, writer Djuna Barnes, and Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson, the founders in 1914 of the avant-garde literary magazine Little Review. She also photographed bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Abbott’s A Guide to Better Photography (1941), The View Camera Made Simple (1948), and Greenwich Village, Today & Yesterday (1949; with text by Henry Wysham Lanier) were published while living here.

McCausland, in addition to providing the text for Changing New York and other books, was a prominent art critic who taught at Barnard College and, like Abbott, the New School for Social Research (now The New School). She authored numerous articles, books, and catalogs, including the biographies, The Life and Work of Edward Lamson Henry, N.A., 1841-1919 (1945), George Inness, An American Landscape Painter (1946), and A.H. Maurer: A Biography of America’s First Modern Painter (1951). The last 15 years of her life were spent researching the Modernist painter Marsden Hartley.

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