Photographer Biography – ATGET, EUGENE

Francia, 1857-1927


In the first three decades of the twentieth century, Eugène Atget (1857-1927) tirelessly and sensitively photographed the city of Paris and its environs.

Though Atget considered himself a photographic illustrator of Paris and not an artist, and refused to allow himself to be judged by fashionable contemporary artistic mores or use his socially accepted status as “artisan,” he inadvertently established himself as one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers. It is the intuitive visual quality of his work that has continued to attract the attention and admiration of later photographers who—as the exhibition demonstrates—have shared ideas of the “ready-made,” common aesthetic approaches, related subject matter, and the use of serial photography.

While Atget could be considered a surrealist, a cubist, and a conceptualist, his images pretend to be nothing other than what they really are. No other photographic works convey with such silent authority the message that all photography is “ready made” and accessible. It is precisely their sense of impassivity, in which the image reveals its true nature to us, which touches us most: the poetry of space is communicated through the juxtaposition of proportions and the simple centering of the image.

Eugène Atget was born in Libourne, France in 1857. He spent his early years working at a variety of professions, from sailor to actor, the latter being a vocation he took seriously but in which he never achieved great success. By the mid-1880’s, Atget took up photography as a way to earn a living. His early work consisted mainly of photographs made for use as artists’ models. While Atget received no formal artistic schooling, this practice of photographing subjects on demand for clients was valuable training for his eye. By 1897, Atget began a systematic visual catalogue of Paris, photographing the city’s streets, buildings, shopfronts, parks and people prodigiously over a twenty-year period. To increase his knowledge about his subject, he became an amateur urban and architectural historian. Following the tradition of earlier French photographers like Charles Marville and Henri Le Secq, Atget used his camera to create images that preserved the city’s historical past. Yet these photographs were not just documentation, for Atget’s visual acumen is evident in many of the striking compositions that are characteristic of his work.

Atget’s documentation project was done of his own enterprise, rather than on contract or commission. Although he quickly acquired a diverse audience for his prints, his commercial independence allowed him visual freedom. Atget sold the majority of his work between 1898 and 1914. Although he maintained an exclusive list of private clients, the bulk of his photographs were purchased by such public institutions as the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Musée Carnavalet, the École des Beaux-Arts, and the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris. During this period, it is believed that Atget created over 10,000 negatives.

These are some of his photos:










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