Eugene Atget, 1857-1927

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015



Eugene Atget was born in Bordeux, France in 1856. As an orphan, he was brought up by his uncle. As a young man he took up acting in theatre, first in the provincial cities in France and then the suburbs of Paris. His physique imposed him to play less attractive roles on stage, usually the part of the villain. As he reached maturity, acting had become an unrewarding occupation to him. He had an interest in painting and often associated with painters. He soon considered becoming a painter and tried his hand in the craft. Later he decided to also become an art photographer, following the same artistic style of his brush works. Atget had an ambition of creating a collection of artistic and picturesque representations of Paris. He obtained photography equipment and set off on his dream journey to begin a vast aesthetic documentation that would take him thirty years. Armed with a camera, observation and drama, he photographed Parisian monuments, houses, châteaux’s, streets and people. For Atget, photography was no more materially rewarding than acting, but never the less he persevered. His perseverance paid off when he sold his first photograph for fifteen francs.




Atget was inspired and encouraged to continue his documentation of Paris. The playwright Victorien Sardou became interested in Atgets work and put him on track of becoming recognised in the Parisian art community. Atget gradually began to win recognition in Paris and began to receive financial support for his documentation. Shortly after WWI broke out in Europe, causing citizens to believe he was a German spy. He gradually began to produce less work and in turn sold less of it. The archives of the Palais Royale acquired some of his photographic plates but at a low price and purely for their record value. Atget eventually gave up photography and by time the war was over he was an old man and in 1927 he died without public recognition or understanding of the vast importance of his work.

Ategt was not progressive a photographer, but worked patiently with techniques that were becoming out of date when he adopted them. He was not the experimental type he simply wanted to record reality. He did however produce photographs which in many opinions had purity and intensity of vision that have not been surpassed.

He created a vast visual catalogue of French culture in his time. Considering that he received no education in composition or photography, his images were so original that his work remains a bench mark in photography. Other photographers had been concerned with describing specific facts within their image or with displaying their individual self-expression. Atget encompassed and transcended both of these approaches by setting himself the task of understanding and interpreting in visual terms a complex, ancient, and living tradition.

The pictures that he made in the service of this concept are seductively and deceptively simple, wholly poised, reticent, dense with experience, mysterious, and true.





Frames used in Atgets work.



L composition used in Atgets work.





The rule of thirds used in Atgets work on the horizon.





Diagonal lines used in Atgets work.



The rule of odds used in Atgets work.

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