Famous Photographers - Eugène Atget
Famous Photographers >> Eugène Atget
Eugène Atget (1857-1927) was born in the French town of Libourne, he was orphaned at four years old and was raised by his uncle. In the 1870s after finishing his education, Atget briefly became a sailor and cabin boy on liners in the Transatlantic. After his tour of duty, Atget became an actor, more specifically, a bit player, for a second-rate repertory company, but without much success.
He finally settled in Paris as a painter-turned-photographer in the 1890s. Despite Atget's limited background in the visual arts, he saw photography as a good source of income, selling his photographs to artists in the nearby town of Montparnasse. He advertised his photographs as "documents for artists." It was common practice at the time for painters to paint scenes from photographs. In 1898, Atget bought his first camera and began to photograph more than 10,000 images of the people and sights of the French capital.
Atget photographed Paris with a large-format wooden bellows camera with a rapid rectilinear lens. The images were developed on 18x24cm glass plates. Besides supplying fellow artists, architects, publishers, and interior decorators with his photographs of a dream-like Paris, he was also commissioned by city bureaus and the Carnavalet Museum to preserve and record landmarks in France's capitol city.
Distinguishing characteristics of Atget's photography include simple composition and subject matter, due partly to Atget's habit of taking pictures in the morning when the streets were relatively empty.
Atget's photographs attracted the attention of well-known painters such as Man Ray, Andre Derain, Henri Matisse, and Picasso in the 1920's. Fellow photographer Berenice Abbott is given much credit for the recognition which Atget's photographs received after his death in 1927.
One year before his death, Abbott, then an assistant to Man Ray, met with Atget and conserved many of his negatives. When Atget passed away, Abbott raised enough money to acquire 1,500 of his negatives and 8,000 prints. She spent the next forty years promoting his work in America, elevating it to be recognized as art, above its original reputation as simply photographic documents.
In 1968, Eugene Atget's work was collected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Berenice Abbott has commented regarding Atget: "He was an urbanist historian, a Balzac of the camera, from whose work we can weave a large tapestry of French civilization."
On the Web
Eugene Atget: The Pioneer at ICP (the International Center of Photography)
Eugene Atget (1856-1927) Photos, timeline and bio from Temple University.