Eugene Atget

Saint-Cloud, 1922

French photographer, Eugène Atget (1857-1927) took up photography in the late 1880s. At this time photography was experiencing unprecedented expansion and Atget entered the arena. Equipped with a standard box camera on a tripod and 180×240 mm glass negatives, he gradually made over 10,000 photographs of France that describe its cultural legacy and its popular culture. He printed his negatives on albumen-silver paper and sold his prints to make a living. Despite the prevailing taste for soft-focus, painterly photography, Atget was faithful to his straightforward, documentary style.

 

By 1898 Atget was specializing in photographs of Old Paris to satisfy the popular interest in preserving the historic art and architecture of the capital. He marketed these images to architects, artisans, decorators, publishing houses, libraries and museums.  Atget also made other series that demonstrated his more  artistic inclinations including the petits métiers series (1898–1900); bars, markets, boutiques, and gypsies(1910–14); prostitutes, shop displays and street circuses (1921–1927); and the churches, châteaux and gardens of the Parisian environs, especially Versailles (from 1901), Saint-Cloud (from 1904) and Sceaux (1925).

 

Atget’s best work transcends the traditions of 19th-century commercial documentation and enters the realm of art. His legacy posthumously became part of the canon of modern photographic history through the efforts of the American photographer Berenice Abbott, who met Atget in 1925 and who acquired his estate at his death.  She made prints from some of his negatives, some of which are seen and found in the market today.  In 1968, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired the majority of the Atget Estate.   In 1985, MoMA completed publication of a four-volume series of books based on its four successive exhibitions about Atget's life and work.