Eugene Atget Appreciation Society

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by cliveh, Sep 13, 2012.

  1. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I am a great fan of the work of Eugene Atget and think his compositions and sense of presence is second to none. I have read that when Berenice Abbott showed Stieglitz some of Atget’s work he was not impressed and this is something I don’t understand. Do others appreciate the work of Atget and have a favourite Atget image? Mine are too many to list.
     
  2. Bill Harrison

    Bill Harrison Subscriber

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    Atget

    One of my most admired artists....
     
  3. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    I too love his images particularly those without any people in them. They remind me of Sci-Fi films where all the people have disappeared. A particular favorite is Café La Rotonde, Boulevard Montparnasse. The photo was taken in the early morning before the cafe opened and shows all the chairs lined up and empty. One article on his images mentions "the unexpected surrealism of his work."
     
  4. dasBlute

    dasBlute Subscriber

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    card-carryin' member... too many favorites, still finding new ones...

    Atget can be returned to many times, providing more questions than answers
    but the sense of a kindred soul remains, at least for me

    also "The Work of Atget" series is amazing, deep and thoughtful...

    [small homage, another]
     
  5. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    I really like the work of Brassai, HCB, Kertesz, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Doisneau, Walker Evans and Bill Brandt. But other than one or two of his images I struggle to find much of unique interest to me in Atget's work. I do not profess to be any kind of art scholar and maybe I'm missing something but other than the time and place of his images I find them kind of boring.
     
  6. ooze

    ooze Member

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    Give me an Atget photo for breakfast, a Bach cantata for lunch and some bread+water for dinner, and I am a happy man :smile:

    This book has been in my library for many years and it's probably the only book (amongst 100s of monographs) to which I've returned again and again:
    http://www.amazon.com/Atget-John-Szarkowski/dp/0870700944/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347602275&sr=8-1&keywords=atget

    It contains 100 Atget photos, each one coupled with a short and usually brilliant essay by John Szarkowski. As a matter of fact, it is this book that formed the "photographer Atget" in my mind. A must read IMO.
     
  7. Ross Chambers

    Ross Chambers Member

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  8. Newt_on_Swings

    Newt_on_Swings Member

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    I think his work was very influential to street photographers that came after him. I like his documentary style which gives viewers today a look at Paris of the past. But I always felt that there needed to be an human element in many of his images. I guess it's just my taste but I lean more toward photographers like brassai. Taschen also makes a very affordable book as well available on amazon.
     
  9. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I've never 'got' Atget's work either, but more and more contemporary photographers are referencing him. Maybe I need to spend some time with a well curated book of his most significant images, from an aesthetic point of view. That's my problem though, I just don't see any aesthetic sense in his images, only a nostalgic sense of place. Then again, I can see what somebody like Kenna has taken from Atget. So hmm. You mention 'presence' which is something I'm very much interested in, cliveh. Could you expand on what you see as this presence in his work? I'd like to be able to appreciate Atget on some level - I guess I'm a philistine until I do.
     
  10. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Batwister, I'm sure you are no philistine and I think you have to sit with some of these images for a while to get the 'presence'. Like all artists there is also much stuff that are merely records and I also don't get some of them. It is difficult for example to appreciate why he should photography a bush with a bit of wall in the background. However, some of his images are so beautiful and evocative, it is difficult to believe they were created by a photomechanical process. Spend some time to really look through a few Atget books, you will not be dissapointed.
     
  11. ajmiller

    ajmiller Subscriber

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    I had the pleasure of seeing 230 prints of his work at an exhibition earlier this year in Paris at Musee Carnavalet - (link)
    I visited during the week so it wasn't busy - with only 3 other people in the rooms I had time to really look at the work and spent the afternoon there.
    The Carnavalet was one of Atget's main clients and bought a lot of his prints and these were originals.
    For me the beauty of Atget's work is about the coming together of place and time, process and equipment.
    I also think with his work mainly done to produce documentary/ record shots for artists and architects there was no pretensions to 'fine art' and such like.
    At the same exhibition was the work of one of Atget's contemporaries - Emmanuel Pottier - who produced similar type of work.
     
  12. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Many of his pictures seem to have been taken at a time when human presence had to be "posed" to be there. Any kind of road traffic would have come out easily blurred. That's a possible reason, but probably not the only one.

    I understand very much his approach, and I feel him very near to my own way of seeing things. When you begin taking photographs of roads, buildings, the moment comes when "human presence" becomes like a distracting nuisance. You want the building to talk. It's as if those buildings had a story to tell, or actually many stories of the countless people who walked there, through maybe centuries, each of them with his own troubles in life, or joyous moments maybe.

    If buildings could talk, they would tell us a lot of human stories. You don't need the human presence, because that would limit the human presence to that person, or that couple passing there at the moment.

    It's the building the talking presence. Old towns with centuries-old streets, the perspective and appearance of which has basically not changed in centuries, raise on me a definite fascination. That's why I love Rome so much. It's not only the monuments. It's that you look a foreshortening and you imagine the countless people for whom that foreshortening was the usual walk to workplace, or the workplace itself. And how many thoughts might have accompanied those human presence there, love, fear, joy associated to that place. The parvis of a church, which is a parvis for me, was "workplace" and day companion for countless beggars of all epochs. It's you who put the beggar there, or the young couple who discussed marriage on those steps. The parvis is the subject, the life which flowed over it is the arrière-pensée raised by it.

    The building known as Pointe Trigano, a very narrow building which is the subject of some pictures by Atget, is the building where André Chénier lived when he was arrested during the Terror. Besides telling us this particular story, obviously other unknown stories could be told by this pre-revolutionary building. Precisely the absence of people make our mind wonder about all the people that have lived there or in the vicinity and for whom that building was a familiar feature.

    Empty outdoor restaurant tables invariably reminds to me the eternal flow of conversation those tables heard, and all those they are going to hear.

    Pointe Trigano below
     

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  13. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I've got all four volumes of Maria Hambourg's wonderful monograph of him. A lot of the images have
    been restored, so look cleaner than his actual existing prints, many of which are in rather rustic shape. During the 70"s there were quite a few wannabee artsy-fartsy types pandering to museum
    stereotypes who attempted to be a contemporary Atget. But Philip Trager did a fine job replicating
    the architectural style of shooting. I personally consider Atget to be the most visually sophisticated
    photographer of all time, at least his old age productions. A lot of his earlier work was simply stock photography adapted to the commercial dictates of the era, though some of it got subtly imbued
    with a bit of surrealism.
     
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  15. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Completely understand what Diapositivo's said and feel this way about many other photographers. Perhaps I need to give Atget another go.

    This is how I've seen Atget's work up until now. Turn of the century stock photography.

    Which books feature his later, more sophisticated work? Perhaps this is what I should be looking at. Maybe you could post some image examples comparing his early work with his later stuff...?
     
  16. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Batwister - I'd refer you to the fourth volume of Hambourg's work, The Ancien Regime, which shows
    Atget's more mature work. However, the previous volume give quite a bit of biographical info and a
    good anaysis of Atget's compositional strategies - though none of that tells us exactly what was going on in his head. I get the distinct impression that, all along, he felt like an artist trapped in a
    commercial photographer's body, and when the opportunity arose, or the right subject matter was
    present, favored his personal visual inclinations. Certainly later in life some of his photographs were
    praised by the uncoming surrealist painters, and he was undoubtedly aware of it. No kind of monograph, however, will substitue for the sheer gestalt of the nuance of his best images, which indeed came out most prominently toward the end of his life.
     
  17. Maris

    Maris Member

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    The famous Eugene Atget is entirely the invention of Berenice Abbott one of the well-to-do American women that flocked to Paris in the 1920's. She collected, publicised, and promoted Atget's work relentlessly with the end result that Atget became lauded in the famous histories of photography written by Newhall, Gernsheim, and others. In all the years since it has been unheard of to critique Atget except as one of the all-time greats.

    I reckon the real Eugene Atget was a photographer of limited ability, limited technique, limited subject matter, and limited imagination and he embraced these limitations to pursue his real agenda. His aim was the consistent, exhaustive, sensitive, dispassionate, even artless recording of what was around him; the changing face of Paris and its people.

    Eugene Atget was not a colossus of early 20th century photography but rather an example of a quiet genius producing a sublime body of work that could have very easily escaped the notice of the art-world. I venture to think there are several people in APUG a bit like that today.
     
  18. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    I just ordered this book. Thanks.
     
  19. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Exactly
     
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  20. batwister

    batwister Member

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    This sums up my feelings. My biggest problem - still - with Atget is, for all I care, it could be turn of the century Newcastle. I tend to be a bit autistic when it comes to the romance of Paris. And so was Atget it seems.
     
  21. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    As I mentioned above I got that book. Read it carefully cover to cover. Really studied more than a few of the images within.

    Maybe I need to take a course on Atget or something to get my philistine brain wrapped around just what was so good about his work. I'm still at a loss...
     
  22. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I would suggest that Atget is the Van Gogh of photography.
     
  23. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i enjoy atget's work a lot. both because of the technical mastery he must have had to deal with his materials
    ( ortho-type emulsions are not the easiest to deal with ... ) and i really enjoy looking at what places used to be like.
    atget was commissioned by the archives to record the city, its monuments, street vendors &c so when the city was "urban renewal'ized"
    there would be some sort of visual record of what was there. he was using photography for its best use... to document.
    i am a little bias, seeing i have a background in the built environment and portrait making and often get commissioned to do exactly what he did.
    i think it was great that bernice abbott helped him as she did. he started off poor, barely eeked out a living and before she found all his glass plates in a dumpster
    he would have ended up as a complete unknown ( except in archive's circles ) ... and now we know of him ...
     
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  24. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Abbott, in my mind, seems to have had her judgement clouded by her romance with that city. Perhaps the same deal with Diane Arbus and Weegee. Why couldn't these women take old men's intentions seriously? That's usually a survival instinct! :laugh:

    The canon of photographic art is flawed in many respects and taken too seriously by some. It's why I laud Lewis Baltz for his comment that "there is no history of photography". Lartigue is another head scratcher and eye roller for me. Yet, mention that to a photography student, who probably has to study these anomalies... or at least, with reverence for the canon, feels they have to.

    A few years ago I went to the Ellesmere Port National Waterways Museum (reluctantly) which had a photography exhibit of early work, by photographers nobody has heard of. I'm not one for nostalgia - be it early photographic processes or survey work and certainly not canals - but some of the images were artistically ahead of their time and evocative in a way we would understand today. I would have asked about them, but the place being a tribute to the condom ridden gutters of the Industrial Revololution (canals), I wanted to get away from all the weird old men as soon as I could. Survival instinct took over.

    But seriously, I think there was probably an Atget in every city in the world producing imagery of equal (substantiated) interest. It just happens that the Stieglitz in crowd never visited them.

    This week, that title belongs to Vivian Maier.
     
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  25. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Putting it this way (and putting very well I might add) I certainly respect the work. But that's about it.
     
  26. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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