It was through Webb's relationship with Stieglitz that he met Berenice Abbott. Webb and Abbott established an artistic friendship of enduring value. Abbott was a generous person, as well as one of America's greatest photographers. She was responsible for ensuring that the pioneering photo work of Eugene Atget was preserved and made known to a wide audience.
Webb was obviously inspired by Abbott. Some of his images of old New York directly correspond to Abbott's. In 1946, Webb photographed Under the El, Third Avenue, 1946. A decade earlier, Webb had taken one of the most artfully composed photos in the history of the medium, Under the El at the Battery. Both photos deal with the same topic, urban life under the iron superstructure of one of New York's elevated transit lines.
The differences between Abbott and Webb are crucial to the understanding of the latter's work. Sean Corcoran, whose perceptive essay on Webb, is included in I See A City, notes that the way the two photographers "approached their subjects was quite different. Webb focused more on capturing the last vestiges of old New York and was not nearly as interested as Abbott in the juxtaposition of the old and the new."
The horse-drawn cart clattering past the parked cars is the key to Webb's fixation with the past in Under the El, Third Avenue. In many of Webb's photos there is a small detail like this that gives special relevance to the entire picture.
black and white photographnew yorkvintage new yorkphotography