Berenice Abbott, La Vicomtesse de Vaulchier, ca. 1930

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991), La Vicomtesse de Vaulchier, ca. 1930

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991), La Vicomtesse de Vaulchier, ca. 1930. Gelatin Silver Print, 12 x 8 in. Gift of D. Frederick Baker from the Baker/Pisano Collection, 2012.1.38

In her essay “Roundabout,” photographer Kaucyila Brooke reproduces a letter of rebuke she received from Berenice Abbott in response to the manuscript of an admiring essay Brooke sent to Abbott. Brooke wrote to Abbott about the importance of Abbott’s portraits of “lesbians.” Abbott responded strenuously: “I am a photographer, not a lesbian.” Taking Abbott at her word and attending to the formal aspects of the photographs rather than what names we might use for the identities of the photographer or the subjects she photographed gets us not out of but even deeper into the complex relations between seeing and desire. The photograph’s device of an image within an image keeps our eyes circling between the somber dark lines, severe cut of the bangs, the dark cuff of the sleeve revealing only the hint of a hand at the edge of the frame and the bright bubblings of the pearl-dripping pineapple held aloft by the large hands behind the American-born artist Dorothy Edinger who, through her marriage, became the Vicomtesse de Vaulchier. The witty play between foreground and background offers us a complicated relation of both/and which no names readily resolve.