September 7th, 2011
From the top: Penicillin Mold, series, c. 1942-46; Nightview, New York, 1932; Behavior of Waves, c. 1960
Beginning with Penicillin — mark the little beaded dews in the fuzzcap’s centre. Mark the mandala presence, the fuzzing out/ghosting out into the void at the perimeter. The perfect septa-wedged divisions. The hint of concentric. This disc could be a world or an alien spacecraft or what it in fact is: a chip of a prick of a flake of a nick of a granulet. ————— Next, “Nightview”: well lawd, who doesn’t goo over this classic? Thrilling, terrifying, achingly beautiful. Those catastrophic-fire glows like a hundred sets of explosives caught nanoseconds after detonation. And that’s not just post-9/11 paranoia talking — to me those white hot glows flooding out all over the place just seem kinda alarming. They’re also gorgeous and sexy. (I’m imagining Abbott having used some kind of special magic lens that reveals the visual spectrum of sex, with each flare representing energy emitted at the precise moment of peak-of-orgasm. Yeah, I have too much time on my hands.) This photo also makes me think of an old J.G. Ballard story about a world existing in a state of such ultra-dense habitation and construction in all directions (and having been so for many, many eons) that its inhabitants have completely lost any sense of open space & open air, of what it means for one of their mass transit trains to actually come to the end of the line (no one can conceive of such a thing), of a space that is not infinite development. That story always gave me the shivers, imagining the endlessness of stacked quarters ducts crawlspaces and rooms, like some big office park building extended in every dimension as far as the eye could see, endless elevators up & down, endless halls left and right, just cell after cell after cell after cell. “Nightview” gives me those same delicious & heady creeps: I feel like if the camera panned in any direction there’d be the same buildings in the same configurations relative to each other, forever. ———– Finally there’s the “Behavior of Waves”. Nothing more to say here other than that I could spend a good hour a day on a couch staring up at a giant blow-up of this gorgeous, hypnotic piece. Oh, and ‘mathy smears’.
More of Berenice Abbott’s work at the New York Public Library’s site, here.