James Abbe (American, 1883-1973)

Abbe made his name as a portraitist to the stars of theater and film in the 1920s, as well as a pioneer photojournalist documenting firsthand cultural and political situations around Europe. He was born in Maine, and his family moved to Newport News, Virginia where his father opened a bookstore. When he saw a camera as a child, he became enamored and encouraged his father to apply for a Kodak agency license to sell them and develop film.

As a boy photographer, Abbe was known by “Pic” because of his covering of events happening in the Virginia region. He then became a photographer with the Washington Post during WWI, and later moved to early cinema. He kept an ongoing working relationship with the Gish sisters—some of the most well-known silent stars of the era—and worked for seven months on location in Italy with Lilian Gish for The White Sister (1923). Afterwards, Abbe moved to Paris to shoot the theater and became an early celebrity photographer for Vanity Fair, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Vogue, among many others. Then, he transitioned to covering politics and was the first Westerner to photograph Stalin at the Kremlin, publishing a book with photos forbidden by the Soviet regime.