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Artists Eugène Atget
Eugène Atget Photo

Eugène Atget

French Photographer

Movements and Styles: Modern Photography, Straight Photography, Documentary Photography

Born: February 12, 1857 - Libourne, France

Died: August 4, 1927 - Paris, France

Eugène Atget Timeline

Quotes

"These are simply documents that I make."
Eugène Atget
"The earliest expression of true photographic art."
Ansel Adams
"His general note is lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail, over all of which is thrown a poetry which is not the `poetry of the street' or `the poetry of Paris' but the projection of Atget's person."
Walker Evans, "The Reappearance of Photography", Hound and Horn

"I can honestly say that I have captured all of old Paris."

Synopsis

A photograph shows the inside of the display of a clothing store like a parody of a theatrical space, where the photographer plays with ambiguity: while the vitrine triggers desire, the glass physically isolates the consumer who contemplates his own reflection mingled with the spectacle of the commodity. Direct, yet enigmatic, images by Eugène Atget earned him the title of "a modern art master" in his use of photography not only for aesthetic ends, but in order to detach the image from its social and cultural referent. Above and beyond their subjects, his photographs are regarded as the bridge between 19th century topographic photography and the so-called art documentary of the 20th century. His work expresses an uncompromising vision that took less account of technical precision, but rather focused on creating a record of pictorial space.

Key Ideas

Atget used photography to describe the different aspects of Paris opposed in many respects to the forms taken on by large-scale modernization. He chose specifically typical architecture before transformation, and small trades or "petits métiers" such as "ice-cream vendors", "wire-basket merchants" or "violet sellers" before their abolition.
His framings and light treatment explore new perspectives in photography that allowed for both recording the historical documents of the world, and also subtly commented on the images represented. His compositions avoid famous landsmarks in order to focus on a smaller scale, sharing his own sense of vision.
Paradoxically, he invented an innovative documentary aesthetic by using an old-fashioned wooden camera with a rapid rectilinear lens and the 18x24cm glass negatives that were common at this time. The combined weight of the equipment was around 20 kilos, a burden that Atget had to constantly carry with him when he explored the streets of old Paris by foot, descending the metro staircases, or when he travelled out to the suburbs by train. Ironically, in light of this burdensome camera, his work is associated with the modern figure of the carefree flâneur.
Considering himself an artisan, Atget has become one of a cardinal references in the Surrealist art movement, while at the same time Man Ray and Berenice Abbott helped reveal his importance to photography. He destabilizes the fixed categories of photographic realism and art, combining and contrasting both dream-like qualities and documentary purposes.
More than any previous photographer, and probably even artist, Atget fullfilled Charles Baudelaire's maxim: "That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity - that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment - are an essential part and characteristic of beauty."
Atget made 10,000 negatives from which he produced and sold an estimated 25,000 prints to individuals and institutions. His system for organizing this massive archive consists of classifying his work not by date or places but by topics such as landscapes, architectures, portraits or interiors.

Biography

Eugène Atget Photo

Early Period

Jean Eugène Auguste Atget was born in Libourne (France) to working-class parents, Jean-Eugène Atget, a carriage maker and saddler, and Clara-Adeline Atget. His father changed careers to be a traveling salesman only to die a few years later on business. Shortly after, his mother, Clara, died as well. Faced with a harsh and unforgiving childhood, which left him orphaned at the age of five-years-old, he was raised by his elderly grandparents, Victoire and Auguste Hourlier, who lived in Bordeaux, France. Atget soon joined the seafaring life as a cabin boy.

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Eugène Atget Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Eugène Atget
Interactive chart with Eugène Atget's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Claude MonetClaude Monet
Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh

Personal Contacts

Movements

ImpressionismImpressionism

Influences on Artist
Eugène Atget
Eugène Atget
Years Worked: 1890 - 1925
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Man RayMan Ray
Lee FriedlanderLee Friedlander
Garry WinograndGarry Winogrand
Barbara KrugerBarbara Kruger
Irving PennIrving Penn

Personal Contacts

Berenice AbbottBerenice Abbott

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
Straight PhotographyStraight Photography

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jackie Meade

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Muriel Berthou Crestey

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jackie Meade
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Muriel Berthou Crestey
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