Abbott, Berenice. (1898–1991) [Joyce, James. (1882–1941)]: Original Portrait
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Silver gelatin print of Abbot's famous portrait of James Joyce taken in 1926, which the photographer has signed in pencil on the mounting board. Though many reproductions of this image use a cropped version in order to exclude the visible cracked negative, this is the larger format, meaning that both the crack and Joyce's left hand are visible. With Abbott's Maine address stamp on verso, likely printed ca. 1960. Matte photo measures 10.75 x 13.25 inches (27.3 x 33.6 cm.), mounted to 16 x 20 inch (40.6 x 50.8 cm.) board, light discoloration near edge of mat, else very fine.
Berenice Abbott opened a photographic portrait studio in Paris in 1926 after having worked for three years as an assistant to Man Ray, whom she had met in New York. Although her Paris portraits are indebted stylistically to Man Ray's, she brought to them a sympathetic eye that was very much her own. Her portraits of women are notable for their empathic understanding of her subjects, but she reached a depth of expression in her photographs of James Joyce. Abbott photographed Joyce on two occasions, the first in 1926 at his home, the second in 1928 at her studio, as was her more customary practice. This portrait belongs to the earlier session, when Joyce was photographed both with and without the patch over his eye, worn because of his sadly degenerating sight. This intimate portrait, with its softly diffused lighting, suggests the complex, introverted character of Joyce's imagination. It is with good reason that Abbott's are considered the definitive portraits of the author of "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake."