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Posts Tagged ‘Eugene Atget’

Paris boutique. C. 1985. By Paul Goldfinger
Paris boutique. c. 1985. By Paul Goldfinger

Eugéne Atget (1857-1927) was a French photographer who received a commission in 1906 to document the buildings of old Paris.  He took thousands of photos, but his work was largely ignored. Meanwhile, many of those historic structures were destroyed.

In 1925, the American photographer Berenice Abbott* (1898-1991)  discovered a trove of Atget’s work and she popularized those images. Many great artists were influenced by Atget, including Matisse and Picasso. That is ironic since painting has long held a lofty position among the visual arts, while fine art photographers have sought respect in the arts community.


Photograph by Eugene Atget c. 1910 in Paris. Internet photo.

Atget died penniless. But his work is greatly admired today. Someone gave me a book of his Paris photos. That book is designed to be precisely the size of an old paving stone from the cobbled streets of Paris.  Atget was photographing buildings and streets, so what made his images so special?

I  had the opportunity to ask that question of a professor of photography from  the Savannah School of the Arts.  He said, “It’s where you stand.”  In other words, the composition of a photograph is so important in creating an image that is emotionally appealing while another photo of the same structure will just be ordinary.

When I  visited Paris some years ago, I tried to emulate Atget in taking street shots, mostly around the left bank. The one above has never been shown before, but now I can re-visit old photographs through the magic of  my digital negative scanner. I love the idea of taking the old technology (a negative strip) and then digitizing an image and trying to make it look like an old darkroom print.

Note:  In Paris, they have worked hard over many years to preserve their architecture. One time I came upon a total rebuild of a house, where only the facade was retained, and everything behind it was newly constructed. On the other hand, you can see housing there that has been occupied for three hundred years or more.

As for Berenice Abbott,* I can see why she liked Atget’s work–she became famous for photographing old New York City.

Hardware store on the Bowery in 1938 by Berenice Abbott.
Hardware store on the Bowery in 1938 by Berenice Abbott.

JULIETTE GRECO  From the movie An Education.

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