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Abbott’s Absence

In response to:

Pictures of the Jazz Age from the May 10, 2018 issue

To the Editors:

In her review of Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography [NYR, May 10], Regina Marler claims that Abbott does not appear in Man Ray’s autobiography, Self-Portrait (1963), and that the omission was, according to Abbott, “rather dirty,” even “bitchy.”

But on page 92, she does appear, and in a very positive light. He describes meeting a young sculptor in a New York café who agreed to model for him at a time when he was just beginning his interest in portrait photography. She also offered to teach him to dance:

And she did, very easily. There was nothing to it. I had a sense of rhythm, she said—that was all one needed. I was elated—all the arts that had seemed beyond me were now within my grasp; photography, dancing, everything was possible.

She kept her appointment and I made several studies of her head. Her name was Berenice Abbott.

To me this sounds neither dirty nor bitchy, but an acknowledgment of her key role in Ray’s artistic development.

Donovan Reynolds
Bear Lake, Michigan

Regina Marler replies:

I thank Donovan Reynolds for his correction. Both Abbott and I missed this lovely description of her early friendship with Man Ray, perhaps because both the first and second editions of Ray’s Self-Portrait (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1963, and McMillan paperback, 1979) have no index. There may still be some emotional truth in Abbott’s error: she is described only as a sculptor and model, not as the acclaimed photographer she became, and their entire Paris experience together goes without mention. She is included as a relic of his New York days, and he misspells her last name as “Abbot,” although Mr. Reynolds silently corrects this in his letter. The third and most recent edition of Man Ray’s autobiography (Little, Brown, 1998) does have an index, to which I eagerly turned: but Berenice Abbott (or Abbot) does not appear.