Changing New York / Censored Realities
Within research of female/sapphic collaborations of modernity, a perpetual process of erasure or the writing-out of art history of female collaborators is exposed. One such example is evident through analysis of the 1939 Dutton publication Changing New York by photographer Berenice Abbott and writer Elizabeth McCausland. Little or nothing is known of the fact that all of the original McCausland captions for Changing New York were deemed not fit for publication by Dutton, and that the innovative spatial text-image design devised collaboratively by Abbott and McCausland was rejected. Instead, the publishers insisted on a very conservative approach to design and implemented a savage editing process reducing McCauslands texts to terse and bland captions that bear almost no resemblance to those that had been intended. The published Dutton captions, as they appear in Changing New York, close down the ways in which Abbotts images are read so that they figure much like the illustrations for a guidebook to the city.
Alice Maude-Roxby and Stefanie Seibold found the complete set of original captions to the book written by Elizabeth McCausland, a communist and socially engaged journalist and long-time partner of Berenice Abbott, in the archive of the Museum of the City of New York. They had remained intact and pretty much untouched since 1939. These highly critical texts act to place the photographs directly into the larger political and social context of the 1930s Depression in USA. The original attempt and idea for the book by Abbott and McCausland was to acknowledge both formats, text and photography, as equal in terms of activating meaning production and/or as tools for critical reflection. The book was intended to comment on the harrowing social conditions and inequalities of New York City in the 1930s.
The 2018 Camera Austria publication Changing New York / Censored Realities brings these complete McCausland original texts back into circulation. A numbering system enables readers to realign each of the one-hundred originally intended texts to the corresponding photographs by Berenice Abbott, as they appear within the Dutton and subsequent Changing New York Dover publications. The book is complemented by an extensive text and original letters, giving astounding insights into the research process of the authors and the history of what they refer to as Sapphic Modernity.