Does This Photo Show an Iconic Photo In the Making?


Gizmodo writer Attila Nagy was browsing through the Boston Public Library’s Flickr stream recently when the above photograph by Leslie Jones caught his eye. He noticed that the scene in the background looked strangely similar to another, much more iconic, photo: “Night View, New York” by Berenice Abbott.

That got him wondering: could the figure seen in the foreground of the photograph actually be Berenice Abbott on the night she made her famous image?

This is what “Night View, New York” looks like:


The dates that are commonly published alongside the photos don’t seem to match up (1932 for the Abbott photo, 1930 for the Jones photo), but Nagy thinks there could have been a mixup of metadata, and that the figure in the Jones image is indeed Abbott.

In addition to the similarity of the figure to known photos of Abbott, Nagy points out that the time of day, angle, and even building lights of the two pictures seem to match up.

Why is this important? It may not be, to you. But images like Abbott’s play a pivotal role in the life of the city—and accidentally discovering a photo that tells the story behind one of the most famous? That’s a fascinating prospect.

Give Nagy’s piece a read for a close look at some details Nagy was able to uncover about the pictures and the photographers behind them. Feel free to do some sleuthing of your own — be sure to leave a comment with any conclusions you come to!

Is This Berenice Abbott Shooting One of NYC’s Most Iconic Photos? [Gizmodo]

  • harumph

    “…and even building lights of the two pictures seem to match up.”

    Er, no they don’t, actually. Some lights match up, but that’s probably due to the fact that most buildings have hallways, lobbies, etc. in which the same lights are on all the time. I’d trust the dates on the photos to be correct sooner than I’d trust a shadow and a vague hunch.

    As somebody else mentioned here in the comments recently, if the headline is a question, then the answer is almost always, “No.”

  • bgrady413

    Lights in the buildings certainly do not match up in a few of those buildings. Maybe it was a dry run?

  • 4dmaze

    Wouldn’t you need a tripod to shoot a sharp shot like that? I guess we would need to see the neg to know how fast the film was. Can’t imagine they had over 100 iso in the early 30’s. I believe that Kodak introduced Super-XX 200 in 1938..

  • Michael Palmer

    Why is this image famous?

  • Paconavarro

    Lights don’t match… for me that’s the only way to connect the images, but that is assuming that both images were synchronized, Leslie’s iconic image could be shot later or earlier than the one showing the people on the foreground, that could explain the difference in some lights, but still seems unprovable.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I think it might be her there one night lining up a shot, but I dont know if its from that night. One building looks like it has a sign on it in one frame, and its not in the other.

  • harumph

    The sign is pretty solid evidence to back up the veracity of the dates on the photos. And there’s absolutely no reason to doubt the dates in the first place, so this whole thing is pretty stupid, actually. These photos were taken two years apart. End of story.

  • bh

    Errrr, I don’t think there was “a mixup of metadata” since metadata did not exist at that time ;-)

  • Brad Trent

    Doug Levere, a friend who I consider to be a pretty good expert on Abbott’s work since he spent years re-photographing her images for his project New York Changing (, weighed in on this by simply saying the PetaPixel post is “crap”…..

    He references two online articles that both show the photograph was taken from the Empire State Building:

    Doug wrote this to me:

    “…This quote from the second link is pretty accurate…I know that it was from the Empire State building. As well the inside the building window kept her 8×10 out of the wind. But it is the reason why the highlights are glowing. The window acted like a highlight filter “glowing” those bright lights.

    “Abbott calculated that in order to get this dramatic night shot with all the office lights on she would need to expose the film in her camera for 15 minutes. She knew that most people left their offices in Manhattan at 5:00 p.m., and of course when they left they turned the lights off. The only night in the year that it would be dark enough before 5:00 p.m. to create the contrast between the building lights and the night sky is the shortest day of the year, December 20th. Abbott also knew that she couldn’t be in any wind if she had to leave her camera’s shutter open for 15 minutes, as the slightest motion could blur her picture. She sought out a building with the perfect view and got permission from the landlord to use a window. At sunset on December 20, 1934 Abbott was all set up, the weather was clear, and she got her picture.”…….”

  • Um

    Sure it did. It just wasn’t recorded in the same way.

  • Zos Xavius

    Indeed. this shouldn’t have even been a news worthy item. bzzzzzzt. Next!

  • Zos Xavius

    dedication has its rewards….

  • Steven Wade

    I can’t find the sign -_-

  • Steven Wade

    I honestly don’t see the sign you are referring to. There are buildings in Abbot’s shot that aren’t visible in Jones’ shot, one of which has a black square on it. But other than that, I see nothing that resembles a sign.

  • Burnin Biomass


  • Burnin Biomass

    No sign

  • Burnin Biomass

    See my response to guest below.

  • Lane House

    It was one of the first night time city scape images, she wanted to capture the brief time that the city lights were on for the night, and the office building lights were still on from the day.