Archive for August 7th, 2020

07
Aug
20

Text: “Atget’s shadow,” on his Paris photographs

August 2020

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde, Jardin Marco Polo, Paris' 1907

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde, Jardin Marco Polo, Paris
1907
Albumen silver print

 

 

Atget’s shadow

A delicious posting on the work of the French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927). Atget’s photographs bridge the gap between subjective and objective representation – on the one hand extolling the subjective quality of art as an expression of the artist’s inner self; but on the other, providing a rejection of artistic consciousness, his objective “documents for artists” appealing to the Surrealists who used his images in publications such as Révolution Surréaliste.

In their presence, the photographs of Atget proffer an intimate in/tension (intention) – between representation and abstraction, documentary and modern, ordinary and dream. His photography, “which focussed on seemingly ordinary sights on the streets of Paris – a door knocker, a mannequin, a window rail – is seen as a forerunner of Surrealist and modern approaches to photography.”1

Further, “The critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin famously invoked crime scenes in discussing Atget’s photographs. He was pointing to their emptiness, their clinical attention to details of the urban landscape, their absolute rejection of the sentimental and the grandiose. … In Atget’s Paris, “the city is evacuated, like an apartment that hasn’t yet found its new tenant,” Benjamin wrote.”2

And yet, there is always something of the artist in every photograph, no matter how criminal the raping of time.

Thinking of my latest body of work “A Day in the Tiergarten”, my current research into parks and photographers, and then looking at Atget’s photographs of parks, I believe that the “park” with Atget takes some of its meaning from the ownership of the parks and the royalty / citizen system that was in place at the time AND what that might allow. Here is the photographer bearing his heavy camera like a tramp on the road, wandering in an empty domain owned by a higher power – and using its magnificence to discover more about the self searching vagabond.

Sometimes the question: “is there anyone here” is answered like Cocteau in Beauty and the Beast, and the answer is: “yes there is – yourself” says the (objective) camera. Sometimes, in other ways, the photographer goes nearly crazy with the possibilities of photography: what is the truth about my presence, the presence of a rock, or the sky? Yes, there is you, but in saying that it opens up all these other (subjective) possibilities. The options of inserting ourselves into representation, into what photography can hold, drives us crazy.

As Lee Friedlander observes, “The photographs of these places … are a hint, just a blink at a piece of the real world. At most, an aphrodisiac.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. “Surrealism did not always involve the strange and absurd. For example, the photography of Eugène Atget (1857-1927), which focussed on seemingly ordinary sights on the streets of Paris – a door knocker, a mannequin, a window rail – is seen as a forerunner of Surrealist and modern approaches to photography…Only a year before his death, in 1926, Atget was approached by Man Ray for approval to use his photograph, L’Eclipse – Avril 1912 for the front cover of the publication La Révolution Surréaliste. Despite protestations that, “these are simply documents I make”, Atget’s rejection of artistic self-consciousness combined with his pictures of an old, often hauntingly deserted Paris, appealed to Surrealists.”Anonymous. “Surrealist photography,” on the V&A website [Online] Cited 07/08/2020
  2. Anonymous. “Atget’s Paris, 100 years later,” on the Art Daily website 31/05/2020

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The subject itself,” he wrote of landscape, “is simply perfect, and no matter how well you manage as a photographer, you will only ever give a hint as to how good the real thing is. We photographers don’t really make anything: we peck at the world and try to find something curious or wild or beautiful that might fit into what the medium of photography can hold.”

“The photographs of these places,” he added, “are a hint, just a blink at a piece of the real world. At most, an aphrodisiac.”

.
Lee Friedlander

 

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ancien Hotel dit de Sartine – 21 rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris' 1906

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Ancien Hotel dit de Sartine – 21 rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris
1906
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ancien Monastère des Bénédictins Anglais, 269 rue Saint-Jacques. Paris 5' 1900

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Ancien Monastère des Bénédictins Anglais, 269 rue Saint-Jacques. Paris 5
1900
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget. 'Hôtel du Maréchal de Tallard, 78 rue des Archives' c. 1898-1905

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Hôtel du Maréchal de Tallard, 78 rue des Archives
c. 1898-1905
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Grille de l'ancien pavillon de chasse de Philippe-Égalité (Hospice Debrousse), 148 rue de Bagnolet. Paris 20' 1900

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Grille de l’ancien pavillon de chasse de Philippe-Égalité (Hospice Debrousse), 148 rue de Bagnolet. Paris 20
1900
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Heurtoir, 19bis Rue Tournefort' 1906

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Heurtoir, 19bis Rue Tournefort
1906
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Heurtoir, St. Étienne du Mont (Cherub Door Knocker)' 1909

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Heurtoir, St. Étienne du Mont (Cherub Door Knocker)
1909
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (France 1857-1927) 'Heurtoir, 6 rue du Parc Royal' c. 1901-1914

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Heurtoir, 6 rue du Parc Royal
c. 1901-1914
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'L'Oranger (with Shadow of Photographer and His Camera)' 1900

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
L’Oranger (with Shadow of Photographer and His Camera)
1900
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Le Portail de l'église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)' 1921

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Le Portail de l’église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)
1921
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Le Portail de l'église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)' 1921

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Le Portail de l’église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)
1921
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Le Portail de l'église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)' 1921

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Le Portail de l’église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)
1921
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Le Portail de l'église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)' 1921

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Le Portail de l’église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)
1921
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Le Portail de l'église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)' 1921

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Le Portail de l’église Saint-Éliphe, Rampillon (Seine-et-Marne)
1921
Albumen silver print

 

 

The critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin famously invoked crime scenes in discussing Atget’s photographs. He was pointing to their emptiness, their clinical attention to details of the urban landscape, their absolute rejection of the sentimental and the grandiose.

As Benjamin observed, Atget established a beneficial “distance between man and his environment.” And Lima’s haunting updated recreations confirm the long-dead photographer’s disquieting insight – Paris doesn’t care about your presence. It is indifferent, and will certainly go on without you.

You can feel joy at standing on a Paris street, but the feeling is not reciprocated.

Atget, who was born in 1857, initially tried unsuccessfully at acting and painting. In 1890, he set up shop as a photographer, in order – as a sign over his door said – to provide “Documents for Artists.” He knew that painters needed images as models for their work, and he set about furnishing them.

For nearly three decades, he trudged through the city, bearing his heavy tripod and documenting a Paris of narrow streets and grime-covered low buildings that was already disappearing.

In 1920, Atget wrote: “I can say that I possess all of Old Paris.”

The world was mostly indifferent to Atget’s work until, several years before his death in 1927, he met a young American photographer, Berenice Abbott, who was working as an assistant to the artist Man Ray. She photographed him, wrote about him, acquired many of his prints and promoted him relentlessly for 50 years.

Today, Atget is recognised as a major figure in the history of photography.

The empty Paris of his prints looms out of the half-light of what seems like perpetual fog. His buildings are independent of people. They don’t even need them. Paris, the message seems to be, continues. It does not care about the individual presence. The city is not sentimental about humankind.

True, traces of humanity are ever-present in his pictures – torn advertising posters, artisanal shop signs, bins of vegetables, rows of boots. But these are only reminders that the city might once have been inhabited. And there are few people in the images to confirm this.

In Atget’s Paris, “the city is evacuated, like an apartment that hasn’t yet found its new tenant,” Benjamin wrote.

Compare that with the images from today. The occasional masked figures are incidental to the landscape. That they wear masks, hiding part of their faces, is a further denial of their humanity.

The “picturesque” – which Atget shunned, as Benjamin points out – is more difficult to avoid…”

Anonymous. “Atget’s Paris, 100 years later,” on the Art Daily website 31/05/2020

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Notre Dame (Stalles), Paris' 1905

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Notre Dame (Stalles), Paris
1905
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Notre Dame, Paris' 1906

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Notre Dame, Paris
1906
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Quai d'Anjou, Paris' 1910

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Quai d’Anjou, Paris
1910
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget. 'Saint-Cloud' 1926

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Saint-Cloud
1926
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Rue des Lombards, Paris' 1910

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue des Lombards, Paris
1910
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Tuileries Gardens' 1907

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Tuileries Gardens
1907
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Tuileries Gardens' 1907

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Tuileries Gardens
1907
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Tuileries Gardens' 1907

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Tuileries Gardens
1907
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Tuileries Gardens' 1907

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Tuileries Gardens
1907
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Tuileries Gardens' 1907

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Tuileries Gardens
1907
Albumen silver print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Vigne (Grape Vine)' 1920

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Vigne (Grape Vine)
1920
Albumen silver print

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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