Eugène Atget (1857-1927)

June 11, 2007 - September 08, 2007

Selected Artworks · Press Release · Review

Eugène Atget
Les Carmes, rue de Vaugirard Colonie dans le jardin a l’emlacement des massacres de 1792,  1900
albumen print
8-5/8 x 7 inches
Eugène Atget (1857-1927)

Born in Bordeaux in 1857, Atget traveled a desultory career path – he studied to be a priest, worked as a sailor, an actor, a painter – before settling behind the viewfinder in the 1890s. He worked as the meticulous visual biographer of Paris until his death in 1927. Early on, he supported himself by photographing animals, plants, landscapes and the like, selling them as “Documents pour Artistes” such as Braque, Derain, Matisse, Utrillo, and Vlaminck. During this period Atget’s subjects were for the most part determined by the popular demand of painters.

But in 1898, Atget adopted Paris as his sole subject, sacrificing his established client base for the freedom to concentrate on his primary interest. His work flourished, and he cultivated new patrons by accepting commissions to document Old Paris for public institutions such as the Biblioteque Nationale and the Biblioteque Historique de la Ville de Paris. Despite his reluctance to be considered an artist, Atget found himself in the good favor of Man Ray and the Surrealists. Owing little to the photographer’s espoused goals, Atget’s work gradually came to be highly regarded for its eloquence as fine art.

From 1898 until the beginning of World War I, Atget made more than three thousand photographs of Old Paris. After Haussmann’s modernization of the city, many individuals and institutions began to collect his documents of the city’s pre-Revolutionary streets and buildings. These precise and elegant images set a new standard for documentary photography. After World War I, Atget experimented more with his subjects, compositions, and effects: late afternoon shadows stretched across empty streets, trees partly blocked views of buildings, and early morning fog sometimes softened the edges of shapes.

Though Atget’s prints were originally sold as documents and not as art, they have turned out to form one of modern art history’s most seminal oeuvres, heavily influencing artists from the Surrealists and Walker Evans to Lee Friedlander and many other contemporary photographers. Atget’s work has been the subject of several exhibitions at both Zabriskie Gallery New York and Galerie Zabriskie Paris.