James Abbe
American , 1883-1973
Collected by a major museum
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

James Abbe, who dubbed himself “the tramp photographer,” was a pioneering portraitist and photojournalist, who captured the international stars of stage and screen, as well as the early 20th-century power struggles across the Soviet Union and Europe and their havoc-wreaking leaders. Appearing in his black-and-white, silver gelatin prints are the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Rudolf Valentino, Josephine Baker, and Adele and Fred Astaire, photographed in costume and on stage, a new approach that revolutionized the format of the publicity still. He covered the Spanish Civil War, the Nazis’ rise to power, and the ferment in the Soviet Union in 1928 and 1932, taking a famous photograph of a smiling Joseph Stalin that effectively quelled rumors that the despot had died. Abbe’s images of the famous and infamous appeared in publications worldwide, including Vogue, London Magazine, VU, and Berliner Illustrire Zeitung.