Berenice Abbott was a notable photographer who produced most of her work, including a study of New York City, in the first half of the 20th century. Her first photographs date from 1925 and were taken at the artist Man Ray's Paris studio.
Abbott too had a studio in Paris, but after revisiting this city in early 1929 – she had lived here between 1918 and 1921 – she was so taken with the potential subject matter that she closed her studio and returned to begin a six-year-long project to photographically document the city. Unable to obtain financial support, she worked on the project independently for six years. Finally in 1935, she submitted a proposal for her project to the Federal Art Project (FAP), the visual arts arm of the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal program to put people to work during Great Depression.
Upon receiving a grant from the FAP, from 1935-39 Abbott photographed for and supervised the project to create Changing New York, a book that was published in 1939, with 305 black and white images and text by Abbott's fellow WPA employee, art critic Elizabeth McCausland.
At the project's conclusion, the FAP distributed complete sets of Abbott's final images to high schools, libraries, and other public institutions in the metropolitan area, plus the State Library in Albany. Throughout the project, exhibitions of the work took place in New York and elsewhere. After decades of lapse, the founding of the National Endowment of the Arts in 1965 revived the FAP's ideals.
Naturally, no chronicle of New York City would be complete without including imagery of its public transportation system.