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.
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.
Originally Posted by Newt_on_Swings
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
Last edited by Diapositivo; 09-14-2012 at 02:07 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
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.
Originally Posted by DREW WILEY
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...?
Originally Posted by DREW WILEY
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.
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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.
Photography, the word itself, invented and defined by its author Sir John.F.W.Herschel, 14 March 1839 at the Royal Society, Somerset House, London. Quote "...Photography or the application of the Chemical rays of light to the purpose of pictorial representation,..". unquote.
I just ordered this book. Thanks.
Originally Posted by ooze
His aim was the consistent, exhaustive, sensitive, dispassionate, even artless recording of what was around him; the changing face of Paris and its people.
Last edited by Gerald C Koch; 09-14-2012 at 10:00 PM. Click to view previous post history.
A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
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.
Originally Posted by Maris
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...