Eugène Atget (1857-1927) devoted more than 30 years of his life to a rigorous documentation of Paris, its environs and the French countryside, through more than 8,000 photographs. In the process, he created an oeuvre that brilliantly delineates the richness, complexity and character of his native culture. Atget's uncompromising eye recorded the picturesque villages and landscape of France; the storied chateaux and the romantic parks and gardens of the ancien régime of Louis XIV; and, in post-Haussmann Paris, architectural details, private courtyards, shop windows, curious buildings and streets, and the city's various denizens. Atget died almost unknown in 1927, although groups of his prints were included in various Paris archives. In 1925 Berenice Abbott discovered his work, and after his death she arranged to buy his archives with the help of art dealer Julien Levy; in 1968 that collection was purchased by The Museum of Modern Art. Originally published in 2000 and long unavailable, this classic, superbly produced volume surveys the collection through 100 carefully selected photographs. John Szarkowski, head of MoMA's Department of Photography from 1962 to 1991, explores the unique sensibilities that made Atget one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century and a vital influence on the development of modern and contemporary photography. An introductory text and commentaries on Atget's photographs form an extended essay on the remarkable visual intelligence displayed in these subtle, sometimes enigmatic photographs.
In this day and age, we've pretty much taken photography for granted as an integral part of everyday life. There is the immediacy of Polaroids and the limitlessness of disposable cameras, which make a picture taken today a distant cousin to the practice of early photography. Occasionally we need reminding of the roots of photographic image-making, the glass plates, hand-coated emulsion, and massive amounts of other accouterments that were needed to make one image. In Atget
, a selection from the lifetime work of legendary French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927), we enter the world of early-20th-century photography, which was beginning to bid farewell to the handcrafted picture.
Atget was poised on the cusp between the techniques and materials of early photography and the moment things began to change and modern photography was born. From a laborious and time-consuming process came a much faster method that changed the nature of photography forever. Seemingly overnight, the photograph went from being a precious object to something on its way to being accessible to all. Atget was among the first generation to photographically capture the world of ordinary citizens. While the subject matter was new, he was nevertheless steeped in the tradition of the old-world photograph. A crooked door knocker is captured with loving attention to detail, an air of preciousness still present. Spindly trees, store windows, public gardens--each picture is delicate and romantic. It makes you wonder if absolutely everything was more beautiful in France. Included in the book are insightful commentaries for each of the 100 tritone photographs and five duotones, plus a great introduction by John Szarkowski, former director of the Department of Photography at the MOMA. --J.P. Cohen