The challenge for me has first been to see things as they are, whether a portrait, a city street, or a bouncing ball. In a word, I have tried to be objective. What I mean by objectivity is not the objectivity of a machine, but of a sensible human being with the mystery of personal selection at the heart of it. The second challenge has been to impose order onto the things seen and to supply the visual context and the intellectual framework-that to me is the art of photography.
At age seventy-seven Berenice Abbott thus explained her approach to making images. She learned photography in the 1920s in Paris, as a studio assistant of fellow American expatriate Man Ray. She soon opened her own portrait studio, where she photographed artists and intellectuals living in Paris, including James Joyce and Eugène Atget. After Atget's death, Abbott was instrumental in promoting his work by preserving his prints and negatives and arranging for publications and exhibitions of his photographs. She returned to the United States and began to photograph the architectural landscape of New York City, which resulted in the publication Changing New York. She taught at the New School for Social Research in New York from the 1930s until 1958. In 1939 Abbott began what many consider to be her most ambitious project that spanned more than twenty years. Believing science to be a valid subject for artistic statements, she set out to illustrate that photography was the medium uniquely qualified to unite art with science. During this period, Abbot produced thousands of photographs and designed and patented scientific equipment, including two cameras. In 1958 she was recognized by the physical science study committee of Education Services, in Cambridge, Massachusetts and worked with them for three years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a physics text book.