Eva Le Gallienne ca. 1927

Berenice Abbott, Eva Le Gallienne, ca. 1927; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

Abbott was staunchly committed to the documentary approach to photography: “If a medium is representational by nature of the realistic image formed by the lens, I see no reason why we should stand on our heads to distort that function.”

Unlike pictorialists, who often used painterly techniques to flatter their subjects, Abbott preferred to present her sitters as they actually appeared. For Abbott, the creative aspect of portrait photography was the pursuit of her subject’s “character,” often through props, unusual poses, and dramatic lighting.

Abbott’s portrait of American actress and director Eva Le Gallienne communicates the intensity of Le Gallienne’s personality through her radically asymmetrical pose and disheveled hair. The contrast between the dark tones dominating the photograph and Le Gallienne's illuminated face and hands enhance the drama. Le Gallienne also looks away from the camera, displaying her lack of interest in posing prettily—one of Abbott's favorite compositional devices. This image was made soon after London-born Le Gallienne founded the Civic Repertory Theatre, which produced classic foreign plays for American audiences in New York.