© Berenice Abbott, 1926 (#1+2), 1928 (#3), Portraits of James Joyce
and Cover and limitation page from the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 1922)

When Abbott photographed James Joyce in 1926 (photo #1+2) he was one of the most important writers in Paris and at the center of the expatriate literary circle that frequented Sylvia Beach's bookshop “Shakespeare and Company.”

Beach had published Joyce’s revolutionary work “Ulysses" in 1922 (on his birthday, Feb. 2) and was doubtless responsible for arranging this session with the young American photographer who had begun her career the previous year as a darkroom assistant to Man Ray, but who, like him, was now also becoming a favorite photographer of the avant-garde expatriate set in Paris.

At the time of the sitting, Joyce was engaged in his most ambitious undertaking, “Finnegans Wake,” and was suffering both from criticism that it was unreadable and from a painful eye condition that kept him home at 2 Square Robiac (where portrait #1 and #2 were made) and required him to wear an eye patch. For one of the exposures (#2) Joyce removed the patch and held it, with his glasses, in his right hand; his forehead still bears the diagonal impression of the ribbon.

Abbott’s 1926 portraits are more like a mirror reflection than a professional portrayal, revealing a complex and sympathetic character Djuna Barnes so aptly described as "the Grand Inquisitor come to judge himself." It is with good reason that these pictures are considered the definitive portraits of the author of “Ulysses” and “Finnegan’s Wake.”

Abbott photographed Joyce on a second occasion in 1928 at her studio, as was her more customary practice. (+, +)


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© Berenice Abbott, 1948-49, Portrait of Edward Hopper

Today, July 22, is Edward Hopper’s 130th birthday. The American artist produced his most revered works in the years between the two world wars, a period in which he perceived isolationalism within American society, partly caused by the great depression. To communicate this isolation with the viewer, Hopper depicted transient environments, often characterised by brief, impersonal encounters. His meticulous compositions inspired cinema and popular culture, from Alfred Hitchcock’s estranged house in ‘Psycho’ to Madonna’s set designs. (source)

About the photograph: When Abbott arrived at Hopper’s studio on Washington Square North, she was intending to use some of his paintings as a background. Instead, Hopper’s wife suggested that she pose him in front of the bare, worn walls of the studio itself. In the resulting image, Hopper is an austere, angular figure. At the left stands a potbellied stove in front of a fireplace; at the right, the spokes of Hopper’s etching press, which he also used as a makeshift hat rack, intrude into the composition. (source)


'Nighthawks' (1942) by Edward Hopper

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© Berenice Abbott, ca. 1926, Jean Cocteau with Gun

Berenice Abbott left the United States in 1921 to study sculpture in Paris, where she was hired by Man Ray in 1923 to be his assistant. She took to photography immediately and by 1926 had set up her own studio, where she began a successful career as a portrait photographer, capturing bohemian life in the city. Mixing amongst the artistic and intellectual circles of the day, she photographed the cosmopolitan likes of Eugène Atget, Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Sylvia Beach, André Gide, Foujita, Max Ernst and Marie Laurencin. (read more)

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