Van Haaften...chronicles Abbott’s demanding life and extraordinary accomplishments with scrupulous detail ... Van Haaften’s expert foundational biography brings Abbott into sharp focus as a photographer able to 'express deep feeling through technical mastery.'
Julia Van Haaften...attempts to grapple with Abbott’s life and legacy in a comprehensive new biography that is absorbing and exhausting ... Van Haaften marshaled a tremendous amount of research to produce this 487-page volume, and you sometimes feel she didn’t want to leave a single moment of Abbott’s long life — she died in 1991 — unaccounted for. Even so, Abbott’s integrity and sense of honor, her restless and fearless nature, and her absolute devotion to telling the truth of her experience, come through loud and clear.
Van Haaften was the founding curator of the New York Public Library’s photography collection, and it is good to finally have a full account of Abbott’s iconoclastic and underreported existence ... As historically important as all of this is, Van Haaften’s biography could have benefited from more analysis and insight. She has a tendency to pile up facts without putting them in perspective. In a typically careless passage, she reports that Lynn Davis became Abbott’s assistant in 1974, but the author fails to identity Davis as a photographer. Instead, she tells us that Davis was a married woman who arrived for the summer 'with her painter-teacher husband and their young son.' Surely there is far more to be said on the subject. Davis, one of our leading contemporary photographers is known for black-and-white images that lend the natural world (icebergs, gushing water) the monumentality that Abbott brought to her scenes of the city.