Atget And Abandonement

“EUGENE ATGET (1856 – 1927) photographed Paris for thirty years. With a singleness of purpose rarely excelled, he made his incredible monument to a city. When he died in 1927 he left approximately 2000 eight by ten inches glass plates and almost 10,000 prints, not counting the plates deposited in the Palais Royale archives. Here is one of the most extraordinary achievements of photography. Yet we know almost nothing of Atget as a person and less of Atget as a photographer. His history is to be read in his work.” More here.

“…this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.” Walter Benjamin

Like countless others I have felt very inspired by Atget. Is it that photographs, or scenes, devoid of people and their activities somehow reveal the essence of something, or is that not shown an implied narrative of possibilities? I would add to Benjamin’s “crime scene” comment that Atget photographed places as though they were suddenly abandoned. (Atget’s aesthetics may have been a result of a compromise; his images of moving people or things would have been blurred or ghostlike with the slow emulsions of the day).

There have been some very interesting “rephotograph Atget” projects. The basic idea is to find and photograph Atget’s original scenes. Here is one from the University of South Florida.

Atget, 1925

And Atget Rephotographic Project, 1992

There is also Christopher Rauschenberg’s rehotographing Atget project.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Myself, I just couldn’t get to Paris to do this post, so I will settle for some Atget inspired shots of Turcot Yards, starting with this one showing the Turcot Interchange where it crosses the Lachine Canal.

Eugene Atget

One response to “Atget And Abandonement

  1. Atget leaves memories of Paris beyond today’s comprehension. But these photos also give today’s photographers in the digita world someting to emulate. We must not just follow in his foot steps but we must use our resources and imgaination to follow and try to surpass his dream.

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