Eugene Atget considered by many to be the father of documentary photography, who for the last thirty or so years of his life worked as a commercial photographer in Paris, died an almost unknown figure in the industry. It was only because by chance Man Ray discovered and helped to publicise Atget’s work, the chance being they worked from the same street.
Much of Atget’s work focused on the disappearing areas in Paris, often the poorer areas that where being demolished. His photographs contained few people and even when they did they are often secondary to the subject.
Man Ray’s purchase of 50 or so of Atgets photographs sparked the initial interest in his work. Though these were of ‘out of place’ or ‘found’ out of context objects of interest to the surrealist movement of the time, which Atget had captured in his many travels (some 10,000 images), it was this catalyst that eventually brought the worlds attention to Agets work combined with Bernice Abbott, who was Man Rays assistant at the time.
During much of Agtet’s photographic career he treated his work as ‘documents’ for reference by artists and cartoonists only in is latter years hid he start to portray the art of the medium. Through out his work Atget used the Alguman print method to produce his work, which even when he started using it was outdated and by the time of his last works was archaic. He was asked why he did not use more modern methods and replied that he would not know how..
Boulevard de Strasbourg 1912
A ‘document’ of a shop window selling ladies apparel. The composition appeals to me, with the hint of a building behind reflected in the window and the motion of the hanging garment blurred due to the slow exposure time. It is difficult not to get caught up in the nostalgia of these images.
Notrodame Cathedral 1925
One of his later images, when he seemed to have discovered the ‘art’ of his media. The tree branches across the structure of the cathedral in the background with the silhouetted tree in the foreground drawing a black spiders web across the building, the thicker branches leading your eye to different parts of the structure. The silhouette structure creates a mosaic of the background
Atget taken in 1927 and he died shortly afterwards.
I find Atget’s work fascinating, his ‘documents’ have recorded for posterity a Paris that no longer exists in a time of considerable change. His simple approach and style appeals to me and the clean, uncluttered images reflect that approach.