Inspired by photographer Eugene Atget (1857–1927), who documented Paris’s urban renewal in the 1890s, Abbott set out to record the modernizing of New York in her “Changing New York” series. This photograph comes from her documentation of the Middle East Side, whose landscape at the time mixed both low and high buildings, crafting a dramatic tempo of old Victorian architecture and the new Art Deco structures designed in the city’s 1920s heyday. This photograph exemplifies these changes through contrast. The skyscraper that dominates the left side of the photograph is not the Murray Hill Hotel; the Murray Hill Hotel is the Victorian–style building on the right whose windows and metal balconies are seen. The skyscraper on the left is composed like a landscape before the sky, but the Murray Hill Hotel’s composition seems indebted to modernist photography of the period, offering a close–up, chiaroscuro interrogation of the hotel’s intricate architecture. Abbott’s project both captures the grace and gravity of the novel Art Deco, while also preserving the city’s previous European-influenced identity for future photographers.
David Kuhio Ahia, PO ’18
Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern