Scientific Photography

Abbott and the world's next big step.

“In 1939, when the project to photograph New York had finished, I deliberated what I should do next. So I thought of this rather carefully and I said ‘Well, I think the most important thing going on today is science.”  - Berenice Abbott


 Starting in the early 1940s, Berenice Abbott began to present scientific principles and ideas photographically and by the mid-1940s was employed by the short-lived Science Illustrated. Cameras and techniques at this time were not equipped to photograph such subjects and so Abbott often had to develop her own ideas and sometimes build her own cameras. In 1947, Abbot started the "House of Photography" to promote and sell some of her inventions including the distortion easel (created unusual effects on images developed in a darkroom), telescopic lighting pole (known today as an "auto-pole," to which lights can be attached at any level), and the mono-pole. However, the company soon lost money and closed.


Abbott’s “big break” in her scientific phase was in 1958 when she was hired by MIT to create needed illustrative photographs of abstract ideas such as averages. These photographs were widely shown in schools and science museums and are recognized as some of the most insightful scientific photographs of all time.


However, it was during her work in the field of science that Abbott experienced the most prejudice in her career, both because of her age and sex, as well as the uncertainty of photography’s usefulness in the scientific field. Abbott has spoken out about the sexism she encountered saying, “When I wanted to do a book on electricity, most scientists… insisted it couldn’t be done. When I finally found a collaborator, his wife objected to his working with a woman… the male lab assistants were treated with more respect than I was. You have no idea what I went through because I was a woman.” Despite these obstacles, Abbott clearly overcame the challenges and became very well respected by scientists and photographers alike.








"Water Waves"                                                                                               "Beams of Light Through Glass"
Berenice Abbott                                                                                            Berenice Abbott


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