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Route 1: Berenice Abbott’s Unusual Bargain

Imagine this: Berenice Abbott, her trusty view camera, a portable darkroom, a giant schnauzer named Schoen, and a pair of newlyweds, cram into a station wagon and head down Route 1 in the summer of 1954 to photograph small towns along the coast for months on end. READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

Baptist Church, Augusta, Georgia, 1954

Baptist Church, Augusta, Georgia, 1954

How did this unlikely party form? A cash-strapped (and carless) Abbott happened to meet Damon Gadd, son of a New York developer, who was eager to learn the craft of photography. Ever inventive, Abbott traded Gadd photography lessons for transportation and off they went. The group, including Gadd’s newly wed wife Sara, left New York on Route 1, traveled south to Key West, Florida, and back north again, concluding the journey in Maine.
By the trip’s end, Abbott had made 2,400 negatives, which translates roughly into one photograph per mile of the trip. Route 1 is the longest north-south road in the US, and connects major cities including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Miami.
This bargain has to be one of the most creative ones struck in the history of photography. As Abbott was nearing her 60s, she found herself struggling with a lack of funding as she had most of her career, despite her great achievements.
A selection of these stunning Route 1 photograph can now be seen in the Lumière exhibition Circle of Light. The magnitude of this achievement was not fully recognized during her lifetime, though the pictures were occasionally exhibited. “I think almost more than any other work she did, this (Route 1) really got to the heart of what she was interested in illustrating, which was the sense of a changing landscape through photographs that were truly objective in their presentation,” said David Prince, curator of the University Art Collection at Syracuse.
Route 1 echoes many of the same themes in Changing New York, only on a national scale. Abbott saw that the federal highway program, begun in the Eisenhower era, would forever change the country. Interstate 95 would eventually divert traffic from Route 1, and life along the road would also shift from villages to exit ramp clusters. Though Abbott had an idea for a similar trip in the 1930s, her teaching schedule at The New School in New York prevented her from taking the long absences needed to pursue her personal projects. But by the 1950s, time was running out to capture this fading way of life. “Before bulldozers and derricks moved in,” Abbott said.
“It’s so different…Now, if you just drive the freeways down to Florida, you won’t see that much of an interesting, different world. I think it will help remind people of a world that isn’t all strip malls from Maine to Florida,” Abbott told an Associated Press reporter in 2003.
As for Damon Gadd, not much is known about the specifics of his lessons with Abbott. The Gadds settled in Vermont after the trip, and 4 years later, went on to found the Sugarbush ski resort in 1958. Sugarbush became popular with the jet set, by introducing innovations such as an enclosed Italian-built gondola lift, during the Gadd’s tenure.The resort attracted the Kennedys, actress Kim Novak, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, and many others. The Gadds eventually sold the resort to Roy Cohen in 1977 and retired to Florida.
Additional information about Abbott’s work, can be found on her Artist Page.

Posted in: Snap Shots

One thought on “Route 1: Berenice Abbott’s Unusual Bargain

  1. John W. Knesevich,M.D. says:

    Wonderful!

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