PHOTO FORERUNNERS: Before street photography became a near-contact sport during fashion weeks in style-centric cities, the craft was honed by women photographers early in the 20th century.
An upcoming exhibition, titled “A Female Gaze,” at the Howard Greenberg gallery in New York will showcase the work of a canon of artists. The images of the late Berenice Abbott, whose career included working as Man Ray’s studio assistant in Paris, will be on view. After another street-style photographer, Eugene Atget, died in 1927, Abbott purchased most of his negatives and prints and brought them back to New York two years later with the help of gallery owner Julien Levy.
Once Abbott, an Ohioan by birth, returned to the U.S. in 1929, she started chronicling New York City’s urbanism and decaying landscape before the Great Depression fully took hold, and continued to do so after it did, while employed by the Federal Art Project, a subdivision of the Works Progress Administration. A decade later the fruits of that undertaking became the traveling exhibition “Changing New York.”
Photos by another lenswoman, Rebecca Lepkoff, who documented New York City with more of an idealistic view, will also be featured when the exhibition of 49 works bows on Jan. 19. Visitors will also find shots by Helen Levitt, a fan of Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who took to street photography after being disenchanted with studio work; Diane Arbus; Jodi Bieber; Lisette Model; Barbara Morgan, and Vivian Maier. The trove of 100,000-plus negatives that was unearthed after her death in 2009 provided ample material for the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier,” which led to posthumous fame.
Other imagery will be by fashion photographer Frances McLaughlin-Gill, the first female photographer to sign a contract with Vogue — an accolade achieved in 1943 — and her predecessor Esther Bubley, whom Edward Steichen helped line up a temporary post at Vogue. There will be more contemporary work from Mary Ellen Mark, who died in 2015. Another featured artist, Ruth Orkin, showed a lot of gumption at the age of 17 by cycling from Los Angeles to New York City to see the 1939 World’s Fair. (She took plenty of photos to prove it.)
After next week’s opening, ”A Female Gaze” will be up through April 2 in the gallery’s new eighth floor space at 41 East 57th Street.