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Sep. 25, 2012

Berenice Abbott's Physics Focus

by Annette Heist

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Click on icon in upper right corner of slideshow to enlarge images.
Changing New York, a collection of works by photographer Berenice Abbott has a permanent place on my bookshelf. Abbott's unsentimental, straightforward photos document the city's people and buildings circa-1935. To my mind, hers are among the quintessential images of depression-era New York City. (Abbott's work was part of the Works Progress Administration/ Federal Art Project.) 
 
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So I was happily surprised to read that Abbott also spent part of her career documenting science. In the late '50s, Abbott was hired by MIT to create photographs that could be used to teach physics in new ways. (Abbott worked as part of MIT's Physical Science Study Committee.)
 
Abbott documented principles of physical science, including mechanics and wave interference patterns, often innovating to get the shot she wanted. (Prior to working at MIT Abbott developed a method of macrophotography she called 'Super Sight.' ) 

More than 70 of the images Abbott created while at MIT are now on display at the MIT Muesum's Kurtz Gallery for Photography. Berenice Abbott: Photography and Science: An Essential Unity runs until December 31, 2012. 

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About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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