Brain Pickings

Berenice Abbott’s Minimalist Black-and-White Science Imagery, 1958-1960


The abstract beauty of science, made dramatically visible.

Photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) might be best-remembered for her striking black-and-white prints of New York’s changing face in the 1930s, but she was also intensely interested in science and in making the abstract elegance and beauty of science visible and concrete. In 1939, she began experimenting with scientific imagery and capturing the whimsy of physics, mathematics and chemistry in her minimalist yet dramatic black-and-white photos. Documenting Science (public library) collects the best of that work, which culminated with the Physical Science Study Project at MIT in 1958.

A Bouncing Ball in Diminishing Arcs (1958)

Behavior of Waves (1962)

Beams of Light Through Glass (1960)

Multiple Exposure of a Swinging Ball (1958)

Multiple Exposure of a Swinging Ball (1958)

Magnetism & Electricity (1958)

Collision of Two Balls (1960)

Magnetism with Key (1958)

Parabolic Mirror (1958)

Interference Pattern (1958)

The Pendulum (1960)

Documenting Science is part Mathematical Impressions, part Bee, part something entirely and timelessly original. The MIT Museum is currently showing an exhibition of Abbot’s scientific imagery, running through the end of the year.

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