Atget, Eugène


France, 1857-1927


Eugène Atget began his work as a photographer relatively late in life, in his thirties, having worked as a merchant seaman, a painter, and a minor actor. In the early 1890s, after moving to Paris, Atget concentrated on capturing views of the city, particularly its historic architectural monuments and details, which he preserved with a realist clarity that countered the then-dominant trend toward soft Pictorialist photography. With an encyclopedic approach to "Old Paris," Atget made documentary photographs of various structures and occupations representative of French culture and society. Atget was a commercial photographer, and deemed his photographs "documents for artists"; he sold them for use by painters, architects, and set designers. Atget accepted a long-term commission from the city library to record the topography of the various neighborhoods of the old city. He also compiled albums of particular subjects, which, beginning in 1910, were sold to the Bibliothèque Nationale and other institutions. After 1920, Atget's work became less documentary and more personal as he explored the landscapes and public gardens at Versailles, Sceaux, and Saint-Cloud. By the end of his life, Atget had attracted a younger generation of followers, including the Surrealists Jean Cocteau, Robert Desnos, and Man Ray. While today Atget is considered a pioneer of modern photography, much of his recognition came posthumously, due largely to the efforts of the American photographer Berenice Abbott, who acquired part of Atget's estate, published a key monograph on his work, and sold the archive to the Museum of Modern Art.

Artworks by Atget, Eugène

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