Maddie Marcinko on Bernice Abbott’s Bread Store: 259 Bleecker Street

Bernice Abbot, Bread Store: 259 Bleecker Street, February 3, 1937, gelatin silver print

I chose to visit the New York State Museum to view the Bernice Abbott: Changing New
exhibit. According to the information on the exhibit wall, Bernice Abbott (1898-
1991) left Ohio to experience New York City and study the sculpture and life there. She
would model for artists to make a living in New York before becoming a dark room
assistant to photographer Man Ray. She would be inspired by him to try portrait
photography, which would help her create her own exhibits and shows in Paris.

She was introduced to many changes in New York after returning from Paris; the
buildings had been replaced with skyscrapers, and architecture had changed quite a bit.
She wanted to explore the old and new parts of the city in her work and compare them.
In 1935, Abbott created Changing New York, which documented 300 photographs of
the changes in the city and was published in 1939. The New York State Museum
obtained this collection in 1940. Bernice Abbott continued to photograph studies of light
and motion later in her career, which was published in many high school and college
textbooks. She would photograph architecture, motor vehicles, and suburban towns.

The photograph I chose from the Changing New York exhibit is Bread Store: 259
Bleecker Street
, February 3, 1937. It is a reproduction of an original gelatin silver
photograph. In this photograph, we see a window with bread inside a bakery. And we
see a woman, peering through the glass from the inside. The reflections of the buildings
on the street are visible in the window, which I find very interesting. Abbott was
fascinated by the changing world, in architecture, society, people, and places. And here,
as we peer into this old bakery, we are also seeing the changing world around us in the
reflection. The new buildings and skyscrapers are evident as we stop to appreciate this
small, quaint, bakery, most likely family-owned. It’s an interesting contrast in the types
of worlds these buildings represent. Even as we stop to read the type, it feels old; we
know this is from long ago, but the harsh, cool, lines of the towers in the reflection
contrasting against the type, and the woman’s delicate face, is also a great comparison
that shows how much the world is changing. Abbott may have done this on purpose to
show how the world felt in New York City before she left it for Paris–only to come back
and arrive in a concrete, steel, cold, skyscraper-populated, city. The whole series of
photos in this exhibit were beautifully developed and well thought out, but this one
caught my eye, not only because of the loaves of bread, but also because of the
reflections, the contrast, and the perspective. We are looking into the world of someone
who is still running this classic, older, bakery, who is dealing with the changing world
themselves, or this is someone who is still choosing to spend their time and money here

instead. History continues on, and time never stops, but we can still appreciate the things before,

and the things we used to love. Just as Abbott did here, we should keep looking forward,

but continue to remember the past.