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.
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.