Podcast 59: Berenice Abbott

Welcome to our first podcast of 2023! In this episode, we zoom in on photographer Berenice Abbott. This American artist has a bit of a six-degrees-of separation going on with a number of our previous Dead Ladies, including Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven and Emma Goldman. As told by DLS co-founder Florian Duijsens, Berenice’s story includes stints in Paris and Berlin, falling in love with eligible ladies, and learning photography from Man Ray. She took portraits of various greats, and when she returned to New York she switched to documenting the changing city, resulting in what’s called the “the greatest collection of photographs of New York City ever made.” Later in life she also excelled at scientific photography, taking with her studies of light and motion contributing to the understanding of physical laws and properties of solids and liquids, as she also made innovations in camera technology.

DLS co-founder Katy Derbyshire joins producer Susan Stone to introduce our episode.

Also available on SpotifyApple PodcastsRadioPublicPocket CastsStitcherGoogle Podcasts, and Acast. You can download the transcript, created by Rachel Pronger, here.

Show notes:

Read more: Podcast 59: Berenice Abbott
Penicillin mold (1946), as seen in NYPL’s wonderful Treasures exhibition
Portrait of Berenice by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
Berenice and Leonora Carrington, various men
Berenice’s newly sophisticated haircut
Man Ray’s Berenice or Baroness?
The only extant photograph of Berenice’s sculpture work
Thelma Wood
Man Ray’s portrait of Proust
Self-portrait with new camera

You cab see Berenice’s image of a Central Park Hooverville here, and read more about her MoMA mural here.

Elizabeth McCausland (aka Butchy) looking adoringly at Gertrude Stein
Glorious Penn Station
The NYPL has all of their Changing New York images up for your perusal, and you read McCausland’s original captions in Sarah M. Miller’s Documentary in Dispute.
Photographer Douglas Levere went back to the exact sites of Berenice’s pictures decades later, showing how much New York had changed again.

You can watch the full PBS doc The Quantum Universe at Archive.org and learn more about Berenice’s inventions like the Supersight camera here.

Berenice’s final portrait
Do watch Martha Wheelock & Kay Weaver’s Berenice Abbott: A View of the 20th Century!
Muriel Rukeyser’s eye, for more on their collaboration, read Rowena Kennedy-Epstein’s Unfinished Spirit
Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century

Our theme music is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon.

Dead Ladies Show #33: Berenice Abbott & Delia Derbyshire

We couldn’t let this hectic year come to a close without one last DLS! This time we don’t have any funding, so there are only two talks, both in English, by your beloved co-hosts Florian Duijsens and Katy Derbyshire. Learn all about two impressive pioneers in their fields, women who pushed boundaries and gave us great work.

The aim of the show is to raise money for more podcasts, so we’ve adjusted the non-reduced price to €10, but reduced tickets still cost €4. Doors open 7.30 pm – come on time to get a good seat! We have limited space, so please book in advance.


BERENICE ABBOTT learned photography from scratch with Man Ray in 1920s Paris, where she did portraits of all the cool kids, alongside sculpture and poetry. Back in New York she switched to documentary photography, capturing the changing city with a sociologist’s eye. That work has been called “the greatest collection of photographs of New York City ever made.” She lived with her partner, the art critic Elizabeth McCausland, for 30 years, invented various pieces of photographic equipment, and later moved into scientific photography, with her studies of light and motion contributing to the understanding of physical laws and properties of solids and liquids.

DELIA DERBYSHIRE (no relation) pioneered electronic music in the UK’s BBC Radiophonic Workshop – if you’ve ever watched Doctor Who, you’ll remember her stunning theme music. A working-class girl from Coventry, she studied music and mathematics. At the BBC, she worked on music for some 200 programmes but remained anonymous due to the corporation’s bureaucratic structures. She set up studios making electronic music for soundtracks, festivals and theatre productions, until she largely gave up music in 1975. She left a large archive of sound material and papers, and has been hailed as “the unsung heroine of British electronic music” and a sculptress of sound.