Skip to main content

Eugene Atget (1857-1927)

Atget came to Paris in the 1890s. Born near Bordeaux, as a young man he embarked as a sailor and cabin boy. Later he became an itinerant actor. Abandoning the stage, he aspired to become a painter, but settled for photography due to his lack of artistic education. He photographed the city of Paris on commission from public and private patrons, but also on his own. He lived an obscure life and died unnoticed. His work was discovered later by the surrealists who considered his achievements as a kind of premonition of Surrealism itself.

The photographs of Parisian streets, walls, facades, windows, storefronts, are indeed marked by a kind of quite expectation. Both intense and distracted in its concentration, in anticipation of things to come, a future drama that is at the same time the disclosure of a time already passed, as an event or a play in its final stages of completion, after the conclusion of the main action.

Through Atget´s works, Paris stages itself, presents itself as the place of a drama about to begin or already concluded. We, spectators have come perhaps too early, or most probably a little too late, and we are able to see the fragmented elements of a plot we are unable to fully grasp the final meaning.

In the majority of his images, Paris is a deserted place. When it appears in Atget´s photographs , the human figure is mostly secondary to the urban space that envelops and defines its inhabitants. The city however displays a sort of disciplined or restrained energy of its own. The city is not the background of a drama written in images by the old actor, but indeed its main character. Van Lier relates Atget images of Paris decayed walls, narrow streets, dormant facades to the concept and process of negentropy, the dissipation of energy (entropy) in physical systems and the counter attempts towards equilibrium.

As an actor, Atget knew the value of the dramatic pause and silence: a kind of music of silence is one important element in his images of deserted streets and buildings and in the mirrors of shop windows reflecting an autonomous world of commodities, liberated from the human intermediaries of commodity circulation: the dream, or nightmare of pure capitalism.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima

revised 14, February, 2009

Avenue des Gobelins (1927)

Notre-Dame, seen from Quai de la Tournelle, 1923

Paris shop front, 121 Rue Monmartre, c. 1900
Albumen print from gelatin dry plate

Organ Grinder (1898)

Cuviér Fountain at the corner of rue Linné, 1899

Paris, 62 Rue de l'Hotel de Ville, c.1900
Albumen print from gelatin dry plate
21.6 x 17 cm

Rue Gozlin, 1905

Mercury statue, Jardin des Tuileries, 1906

Jardin des Tuileries, 1907

The Moulin Rouge, 86 Boulevard de Clichi, 1910


Le cirque

Le Cirque

Atget rur de Seine 1924

Rue de Seine, 1924

Atget Corsets

Corsets, Boulevard de Strasbourge, 1912

Atget rue Saint Rustique

Atget, Eugene (1857-1927) Rue St. Rustique
“20 Photographs by Eugene Atget”, New York, 1956
March 1922 / printed 1956 by Berenice Abbott from Atget’s negative
toned gelatin silver print
21.7 x 17.5 cm.
source: George Eastman House Online Collection


Anonymous said…
Thanks for doing this. Nice introduction and some great photos of early Paris.

Popular posts from this blog

Group f/64 Manifesto (1932)

Ansel Adams by Dorothea Lange

Group f/64 Manifesto
The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of members of this Group.
The chief object of the Group is to present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West; in addition to the showing of the work of its members, it will include prints from other photographers who evidence tendencies in their work similar to that of the Group.
Group f/64 is not pretending to cover the entire of photography or to indicate through its selection of members any deprecating opinion of the photographers who are not included in its shows. There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.
Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are strivin…

Paul Strand: method and vision

Portrait, Washington Square Park, 1917

Pears and Bowls, 1916

Wild Iris, Maine, 1927

Wall Street, 1915

Portrait of Georges Braque, 1957

The “full acceptance” of reality is the method and goal of the photographer, observed Paul Strand. However, full objectivity has to be something different from a passive receptivity but must emerge from an active and vigilant attitude that requires the photographer’s control of his subject. Or rather, it requires the coming together of subject and object in the intervening space of the photograph, synthesizing and perhaps transcending both, a mediating space, both familiar and unusual, made of masses and voids, light and shadows, made of the equivalence of presence and absence,  of correspondences of vision and forms in the world, of the coalescence of equivalent forms in a frame, of a spatialized time and a space of  gradually superposed temporalities.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima



"The job of the photographer in the 21st century has become increasingly challenging as the practice is an overwhelmingly populist business. Anyone who has access to a camera has the power to become an artist, leaving a plethora of cached evidence on the internet for public consumption.
This “found” internet content serves as a vast laboratory for major experimentation, underpinning the concept of post-photography, with endless possibilities for artists to recreate original works using avant-garde techniques drawn from both the digital and analogue eras."

Fiona Martin
(short presentation of the book Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera by Robert Shore)

Perhaps there is less novelty here, regarding the context of photography transformed by the new image technologies developed in the late 20th century, in the particular sense that the early impact of photography itself transformed the regimes of vision and impacted the ae…