Joie de Paris
An only child, Eugune Atget was orphaned at an early age, and began a peripatetic wandering of life, first at sea and later as an actor. Studying at the Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique in Paris, he met Valerine Delafosse, his lifetime companion. After an unsuccessful dabble in painting, Atget purchased a box camera with a tripod in the late 1880’s. The 180 by 240 mm glass negative format, provided the canvas of his societal communication, which would define Atget’s life and that of his beloved Paris.
By 1891 Atget’s commercial enterprise expanded, selling his works to painters of the Impressionist age; landscapes, still life’s, and urban scenery, captured in a straight-forward almost documentary style. His pursuit of the image, was itself an art form. Relentless transformation of the ordinary, into a poetic realm of art established an essential link in photography’s nascent history. The soft focus Pictorialism of the Alfred Stiegliz camp at the turn of the 20th century, turns full circle into the straight narrative of Walker Evans, Paul Strand and Bernice Abbott, who acquired Atget’s estate at his death
Thematically, Atget pursued related images and categorically similar series of works, originating in districts and streets. Prostitutes, window displays, workers and boutiques all found a way into the 10,000 photographs he made of France’s popular cultural repositories. At the same time, in a parallel universe, Germany’s August Sandler, chronicles the working class ethos of his native Westerwald, near Colonge. The social realism of photography’s deus ex machina, the ghost in the machine, transforms the art in a narrative context of nominative information.
In a voluminous context, Atget’s photography denotes the spirituality of the early medium, into a philosophical matrix. The primary documents of his works convey a fidelity to factual quantification, yet his selective choices require the viewer to contemplate the metaphorical message. Would that sunlight on a Paris street have existed if not captured by Atget? Was he the only observer that morning?
In 1930, the posthumously edited, Atget, Photographe de Paris is published and becomes a cornerstone in the parthenon of modern photography’s iconic works.
All works copyright the estate of Eugene Atget.
Other noted photographers: