Noted Photographer's Vintage Photos of the RFK

American photographer Berenice Abbott was known for her black and white photographs of New York City and urban architecture in the 1930s, chronicling many buildings and neighborhoods throughout Manhattan that are no longer standing.

Photo Berenice Abbott's letter to TBTA

Among the photographs taken and included in the 1939 book called “Changing New York,” are two of the Triborough Bridge, now called the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. These photos and about 300 others are part of a collection given to the Museum of the City of New York.

The photos were taken in June 1937, just 11 months after the opening of Robert Moses' Triborough Bridge, which is actually three bridges, a viaduct and 14 miles of approach roads connecting Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.

Abbott's original request to the Triborough Bridge Authority (TBA) asking permission for her and a companion photographer, Mack Young, to take photos is also seen here. The permit is part of MTA Bridges and Tunnels' Special Archive collection, which has one of the most extensive visual records of Depression-era public works in the country with 100,000 photos, 40,000 drawings, 50 scale models, and 40,000 feet of film footage. The request asks that the pair be allowed to park on the roadway to take the photos, which was easy to accommodate in the 1930s when people were just beginning to embrace the automobile.

The idea for the book came about after Abbott returned from Paris in 1929 where she studied and was mentored by photographer Man Ray. Abbott was struck by how rapidly New York City's landscape was changing and the story it told in terms of contrast between new and old, and monumental and small scale architecture.

In 1935, she was hired by the Federal Art Project as a supervisor, overseeing more than a dozen unemployed artists. The photographs taken by Abbott studied urban life, the diverse people of the city, the places they lived, worked and played, and their daily activities.

“Changing New York” was published prior to the opening of the 1939 World's Fair in Queens. The book has been printed several times and is still very popular. An original Abbott print fetches as much as $8,000 today.

To view more Berenice Abbott “Changing New York” photographs that are part of the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery click here.

Berenice Abbott photoBerenice Abbott photo