New York Changing
Revisiting Berenice Abbott's New York
Douglas Levere, Bonnie Yochelson
Publication date 11/1/2004
8.5 x 11 inches (21.6 x 27.9 cm), Hardcover
192 pages, 170 b/w illustrations
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In 1935 the renowned photographer Berenice Abbott set out on a five-year, WPA-funded project to document New York's transformation from a nineteenth-century city into a modern metropolis of towering skyscrapers. The result was the landmark publication Changing New York, a milestone in the history of photography that stands as an indispensable record of the Depression-era city.
More than sixty years later, New York is an even denser city of steel-and-glass and restless energy. Guided by Abbott's voice and vision, New York photographer Douglas Levere has revisited the sites of 100 of Abbott's photographs, meticulously duplicating her compositions with exacting detail; each shot is taken at the same time of day, at the same time of year, and with the same type of camera. New York Changing pairs Levere's and Abbott's images, resulting in a remarkable commentary on the evolution of a metropolis known for constantly reinventing itself.
Douglas Levere is a New York-based photographer whose works have been published in Newsweek, Business Week, Forbes, and People. Bonnie Yochelson is an art historian and former curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York. She has written extensively on New York photography including Berenice Abbott: Changing New York.
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"... Douglas Levere masterfully revisits the sites of Abbott's magnificent photographs..."
"In effect, this is a treatise on a changing city, a city altered, a city alive. Goldberger writes about the notion of progress, the arc of the life of a city. This book handsomely reveals this idea. It is a kind of diary that confronts us with the past, the present, and maybe the future. . . . Highly recommended."
Metropolitan News-Enterprise, Los Angeles:
"The New York photographs taken by Berenice Abbott for the WPA between 1935 and 1940 are well regarded both for their aesthetic qualities and as documents of the evolving skyscraper era.Now, almost 70 years later...Douglas Levere... returns to the same sites. He scrupulously replicates Abbott's compositions (even using the same kind of camera and shooting at the same time of day and year) to record how much of the city has changed and how much remains unchanged.A fascinating concept, effectively realized."
B&W (Black & White Magazine):
"... a fascinating study of permanence and change."
"This engrossing book does ample credit to both photographers."
The Architects' Journal:
"Douglas Levere revisits some 80 of the sites recorded by photographer Berenice Abbott for one of the very best books on the city, Changing New York, published in 1939. Using the same equipment as Abbott-a cumbersome 8 x 10 camera-and attempting to replicate not just her original viewpoints but also the weather and light, he shows us aspects of New York six decades later."
The New York Times:
"Berenice Abbotts renowned photographs of New York in the late 1930s, made to document its transformation to a skyscraper city, were reproduced as closely as possible from 1997 to 2003 by the photographer Douglas Levere with the identical type of camera, shooting from the same sites at the same time of day and year. Tenements and the el disappear; steel and glass and occasional trees shoot up. The before-and-after photographs, facing each other, emphasize New York as a living city of constant change."
The New York Times:
"So absorbing that a viewer risks incurring whiplash from looking back and forth between images."
"NY Changing is a treat for anyone fascinated by the changing face of cities."
"Real progress is something that neednt be commented on; it is simply self-evident. Thats the principle behind this elegantly understated book, which places photographs taken by photographer Berenice Abbott in the mid-1930s alongside present-day photos of the same locations shot by Douglas Levere, whose work has appeared in such magazines as Forbes and People. In some cases, the contemporary images are remarkably similar to the Depression-era ones; take, for instance, the New York Telephone Building, which, aside from a new name (Verizon Communications Building), seems unchanged by time. Others are utterly different. In 1937, the Wanamakers department store occupied the corner of Broadway and east 9th Street, and its faade was covered in billboards; today, a 15-story apartment building and diner stand in that same space. Some duos are similar, but with one altered elementlike the absence, in 2002, of an elevated railroad track blazing through Herald Square, as it did in 1936. Its clear that Levere took care to re-shoot the photos from virtually the same angles that Abbott usedwhich is much easier said than done. The text that accompanies each pair of photos underlies the difficulty of Leveres task. For a photo depicting Fifth Avenue shoppers dashing around, Levere had to rent a double-decker bus, but since he couldnt get permission from the city to stop in traffic, "the bus driver feigned an emergency, placing orange cones on the road and opening the bus hood to allow Levere to take his photograph at precisely 1:10 P.M." This is exactly the kind of scrupulous attention to detail that makes this book work so well."
"In "New York Changing," Levere's remarkable re-photographings are placed side by side with Abbott's originals. Comely Gilded Age buildings have been dwarfed or replaced by the glass-and-steel monstrosities of the '60s and '70s - no surprise there. In most cases, blessings are mixed. Take the row of 19th century commercial buildings, as ornate as wedding cakes, along Union Square West that Abbott photographed in 1938. Sixty years later, four of the six look almost as fresh as they did then, give or take a missing cornice. But one has been transformed into a modernist cage, another replaced by a grubby little McDonald's."
New York Daily News:
"Levere was meticulous in framing each image . . . Comparisons are fascinating - both in how little has changed and how much."
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