Posts Tagged ‘Documents for artists

24
Apr
14

Exhibition: ‘Paris as Muse: Photography, 1840s-1930s’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 28th January – 4th May 2014

 

If there is one city in the world in which I would really like to live, it would be Paris. I have loved her since first going there as a teenager and she has never foresaken that love: always romantic, beautiful, intriguing, Paris is my kind of city. As a flâneur there is much to observe, much to digest and assimilate through periods of reflection.

Where do you start? Steichen, Stieglitz, Fox Talbot, Marville, Brassaï, Jeanloup Sieff, Cartier-Bresson, Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Nadar, any photographer of note but above all Atget – all acquiescent to her charms. Strange as it may seem, it is not that the photographer takes photos of Paris (as though possessing an object of desire), but that the city allows these revelations to occur as a kind of benediction, a kind of divine blessing. Am I making any sense here? Perhaps I am just too much in love, but having photographed in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery for example, there is nothing quite like the feeling I get when in the City of Light.

The photographs in this posting are magnificent. The intimacy of the Brassaï, the tonality of the Steichen; the dankness of the Marville and the informality of the Stieglitz. The first two Atget are cracking images. Note how the auteur éditeur uses the darkness of the tree trunks to divide the picture plane, better than anyone has done before or since. It is a pleasure to be able to show you Atget’s Work Room with Contact Printing Frames (c. 1910, below), an image I have never seen before in all the years I have been looking at his work. Make sure you enlarge the image to see all the details including the simplicity of the trestle table: “On the table are the wooden frames the photographer used to contact print his glass negatives; at right are several bins of negatives stacked vertically; below the table are his chemical trays; on the shelves above are stacks of paper albums – a shelf label reads escaliers et grilles (staircases and grills).”

I am particularly taken by the feather duster, the parcels wrapped in newspapers and tied with string, and intrigued by the print of a moonrise(?) over a bridge high up, tacked to the wall (see detail image below). Obviously this image meant a lot to him because it is the only one in the room and it would have taken a bit of an effort to put it up there. I wonder whose image it is, and what bridge it is of…

Marcus

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Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“Oysters and a glass of wine, a corner café, the Sunday bird market on the Île de la Cité, a lover’s stolen kiss: Paris has loomed large in the imagination of artists, writers, and architects for centuries. For 175 years, it has attracted photographers from around the world who have succumbed to its spell and made it their home for part, if not all, of their lives.

Paris as Muse: Photography, 1840s-1930s (January 27 – May 4, 2014) celebrates the first 100 years of photography in Paris and features some 40 photographs, all drawn from the Museum’s collection. Known as the “City of Light” even before the birth of the medium in 1839, Paris has been muse to many of the most celebrated photographers, from Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (one of the field’s inventors) and Nadar to Charles Marville, Eugène Atget, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The show focuses primarily on architectural views, street scenes, and interiors. It explores the physical shape and texture of Paris and how artists have found poetic ways to record its essential qualities using the camera.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris) 'Nôtre Dame' 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Nôtre Dame
1922
Albumen silver print from glass negative
18.2 x 22.1 cm (7 1/8 x 8 11/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joseph M. Cohen Gift, 2005

 

Atget likely avoided Nôtre Dame during his early career as it was already well documented by other photographers. In his old age, however, he worked more for his own pleasure and during the last five years of his life photographed the cathedral regularly. He always viewed it in an eccentric way – either in the distance, as here, or in detail.

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Quai d'Anjou, 6h du matin' 1924

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Quai d’Anjou, 6h du matin
1924
Albumen silver print from glass negative
17.7 x 22.8 cm (6 15/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, William Talbott Hillman Foundation Gift, 2005

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Untitled [Atget's Work Room with Contact Printing Frames]' c. 1910

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Untitled [Atget’s Work Room with Contact Printing Frames]
c. 1910
Albumen silver print from glass negative
20.9 x 17.3 cm. (8 1/4 x 6 13/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990

 

This straightforward study by Atget of his own work room offers a rare glimpse of the inner sanctum of an auteur éditeur, as he described his profession. On the table are the wooden frames the photographer used to contact print his glass negatives; at right are several bins of negatives stacked vertically; below the table are his chemical trays; on the shelves above are stacks of paper albums – a shelf label reads escaliers et grilles (staircases and grills). Atget used these homemade albums to organize his vast picture collection from which he sold views of old Paris to clients.

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Untitled [Atget's Work Room with Contact Printing Frames]' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Untitled [Atget’s Work Room with Contact Printing Frames] (detail)
c. 1910
Albumen silver print from glass negative
20.9 x 17.3 cm. (8 1/4 x 6 13/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Marchand de Vin, Rue Boyer, Paris' 1910-11

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Marchand de Vin, Rue Boyer, Paris
1910-11
Albumen silver print from glass negative
21.5 x 17.6 cm (8 7/16 x 6 15/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joseph M. Cohen Gift, 2005

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Boulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets, Paris' 1912

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Boulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets, Paris
1912
Gelatin silver print from glass negative
22.4 x 17.5 cm (8 13/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

 

Atget found his vocation in photography in 1897, at the age of forty, after having been a merchant seaman, a minor actor, and a painter. He became obsessed with making what he termed “documents for artists” of Paris and its environs and compiling a visual compendium of the architecture, landscape, and artifacts that distinguish French culture and history. By the end of his life, Atget had amassed an archive of more than eight thousand negatives, which he organized into such categories as Parisian Interiors, Vehicles in Paris, and Petits Métiers (trades and professions).

In Atget’s inventory of Paris, shop windows figure prominently and the most arresting feature mannequin displays. In the 1920s the Surrealists recognized in Atget a kindred spirit and reproduced a number of his photographs in their journals and reviews. Antiquated mannequins such as the ones depicted here struck them as haunting, dreamlike analogues to the human form.

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858) Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904) 'Untitled [The Pavillon de Flore and the Tuileries Gardens]' 1849

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858)
Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904)
Untitled [The Pavillon de Flore and the Tuileries Gardens]
1849
Daguerreotype
15.2 x 18.7 cm (6 x 7 3/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

Taken in September 1849 from a window of the École des Beaux-Arts, this daguerreotype exhibits the dazzling exactitude and presence that characterize these mirrors of reality. True to the daguerreotype’s potential, stationary objects are rendered with remarkable precision; under magnification one can clearly discern minute architectural details on the Pavillon de Flore, features of statuary and potted trees in the Tuileries Gardens, even the chimney pots on the buildings in the background along the rue de Rivoli.

Daguerre himself had chosen a nearly identical vantage point in 1839 for one of his earliest demonstration pieces, and it may well have been with that archetypal image in mind that Choiselat and Ratel made this large daguerreotype a decade later. Choiselat and Ratel, among the earliest practitioners to utilize and improve upon Daguerre’s process, first published their methods for enhancing the sensitivity of the daguerreotype plate in 1840 and had achieved exposure times of under two seconds by 1843. Unlike Daguerre’s long exposure, which failed to record the presence of moving figures, this image includes people (albeit slightly blurred) outside the garden gates, on the Pont Royal, and peering over the quai wall above the floating warm-bath establishment moored in the Seine. Still more striking is the dramatic rendering of the cloud-laden sky, achieved by the innovative technique of masking the upper portion of the plate partway through the exposure.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'The Boulevards at Paris' May-June 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
The Boulevards at Paris
May-June 1843
Salted paper print from paper negative
15.1 x 19.9 cm (5 15/16 x 7 13/16 in. )
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

Talbot traveled to Paris in May 1843 to negotiate a licensing agreement for the French rights to his patented calotype process and, with Henneman, to give first hand instruction in its use to the licensee, the Marquis of Bassano.

No doubt excited to be traveling on the continent with a photographic camera for the first time, Talbot seized upon the chance to fulfill the fantasy he had first imagined on the shores of Lake Como ten years before. Although his business arrangements ultimately yielded no gain, Talbot’s views of the elegant new boulevards of the French capital are highly successful, a lively balance to the studied pictures made at Lacock Abbey. Filled with the incidental details of urban life, architectural ornamentation, and the play of spring light, this photograph, unlike much of the earlier work, is not a demonstration piece but rather a picture of the real world. The animated roofline punctuated with chimney pots, the deep shopfront awning, the line of waiting horse and carriages, the postered kiosks, and the characteristically French shuttered windows all evoke as vivid a notion of mid-nineteenth-century Paris now as they must have when Talbot first showed the photographs to his friends and family in England.

A variant of this scene, taken from a higher floor in Talbot’s Paris hotel, appeared as plate 2 in The Pencil of Nature.

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, Hoboken, New Jersey 1864–1946 New York) 'A Snapshot, Paris' 1911, printed 1912

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, Hoboken, New Jersey 1864–1946 New York)
A Snapshot, Paris
1911, printed 1912
Photogravure
13.8 x 17.4 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
Gift of J. B. Neumann, 1958

 

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Stieglitz trained to be an engineer in Germany and moved to New York in 1890. His lifelong ambition as an artist (and advocate for the arts) was to prove that photography was as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture. As the editor of Camera Notes, the journal of the Camera Club of New York, and then later Camera Work (1902-17), Stieglitz espoused his belief in the aesthetic potential of the medium. He published work by photographers who shared his conviction alongside European modernists such as Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Francis Picabia.

 

Michel Seuphor (Belgian, born 1901) 'Paris' 1929

 

Michel Seuphor (Belgian, born 1901)
Paris
1929
Gelatin silver print
11.4 x 16.4 cm. (4 1/2 x 6 7/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1994
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

The Belgian painter, poet, designer, and art critic Seuphor moved to Paris in 1925 and entered the artistic community of such expatriate artists as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Theo van Doesburg. Little is known about his work with the camera except that this photograph was made the year Seuphor founded Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square), a group dedicated to abstraction that would include Kandinsky, Mondrian, Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, and Le Corbusier.

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858) Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904) 'Défilé sur le Pont-Royal' May 1, 1844

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858)
Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904)
Défilé sur le Pont-Royal
May 1, 1844
Daguerreotype
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

 

In January 1839 the Romantic painter and printmaker Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) showed members of the French Académie des Sciences an invention he believed would forever change visual representation: photography. Each daguerreotype (as Daguerre dubbed his invention) is an image produced on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper.

Using an “accelerating liquid” of their own devising, the daguerreotypists Choiselat and Ratel were able to reduce exposure times from minutes to seconds, which allowed them to capture events as they happened. Here the mounted guards stationed along one of Paris’s most famous bridges registered clearly on the daguerreotype plate, but even with a short exposure time the moving crowds and rolling carriages became a blur of activity.

 

Charles Marville (French, Paris 1813–1879 Paris) 'Rue Traversine (from the Rue d'Arras)' c. 1868

 

Charles Marville (French, Paris 1813–1879 Paris)
Rue Traversine (from the Rue d’Arras)
c. 1868
Albumen silver print from glass negative
34.8 x 27.5 cm (13 11/16 x 10 13/16 in. )
Gift of Howard Stein, 2010

 

Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brașov 1899-1984 Côte d'Azur) 'Street Fair, Boulevard St. Jacques, Paris' 1931

 

Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brașov 1899-1984 Côte d’Azur)
Street Fair, Boulevard St. Jacques, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 17.1 cm (9 x 6 3/4 in.)
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2007
© The Estate of Brassai

 

Born in Transylvania, Gyula Halász studied painting and sculpture in Hungary and moved to Paris in 1924 to work as a journalist. About 1930 he changed his name to Brassaï and took up photography. The camera became a constant companion on his nightly walks through the city’s seamier quarters, where he aimed his lens at showgirls, prostitutes, ragpickers, transvestites, and other inhabitants of the demimonde. His first and most famous book of photographs, Paris de nuit (Paris by Night), published in 1933, includes a variation of this scene of three masked women tempting men into a sideshow.

 

Edward J. Steichen (American (born Luxembourg), Bivange 1879-1973 West Redding, Connecticut) 'Untitled [Brancusi's Studio]' c. 1920

 

Edward J. Steichen (American (born Luxembourg), Bivange 1879-1973 West Redding, Connecticut)
Untitled [Brancusi’s Studio]
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 19.4 cm (9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
Gift of Grace M. Mayer, 1992
Reprinted with permission of Joanna T. Steichen.

 

Steichen lived in Paris on and off from 1900 to 1924, making paintings and photographs. A cofounder with Alfred Stieglitz of the Photo-Secession, Steichen offered his former New York studio to the fledgling organization as an exhibition space in 1905. Known first as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and later simply by its address on Fifth Avenue, 291, the gallery introduced modern French art to America through the works of Rodin, Matisse, Cézanne, and, in 1914, Constantin Brancusi.

Steichen and Brancusi, who met at Rodin’s studio, became lifelong friends. This view of a corner of Brancusi’s studio on the impasse Roncin shows several identifiable works, including Cup (1917) and Endless Column (1918). The photograph’s centerpiece is the elegant polished bronze Golden Bird (1919), which soars above the other forms. Distinct from Brancusi’s studio photographs – subjective meditations on his own creations – Steichen’s view is more orchestrated, geometric, and objective. Golden Bird is centered, the light modulated, and the constellation of masses carefully balanced in the space defined by the camera. A respectful acknowledgment of the essential abstraction of the sculpture, the photograph seems decidedly modern and presages the formal studio photographs Steichen made in the service of Vanity Fair and Vogue beginning in 1923.

 

 

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24
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Eugène Atget: Old Paris’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 4th November 2012

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“…I have assembled photographic glass negatives… in all the old streets of Old Paris, artistic documents showing the beautiful civil architecture from the 16th to the 19th century. The old mansions, historic or interesting houses, beautiful façades, lovely doors, beautiful panelling, door knockers, old fountains, stylish staircases (wrought iron and wood) and interiors of all the churches in Paris… This enormous documentary and artistic collection is now finished. I can say that I possess the whole of Old Paris.”

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Eugène Atget 1920

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“The first time I saw photographs by Eugène Atget was in 1925 in the studio of Man Ray in Paris. Their impact was immediate and tremendous. There was a sudden flash of recognition – the shock of realism unadorned. The subjects were not sensational, but nevertheless shocking in their very familiarity. The real world, seen with wonderment and surprise, was mirrored in each print.”

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Berenice Abbott 1964

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Spaces That Matter…

[In revelatio, in revelation] the photographers trained eye is perhaps more of a hindrance than may at first be thought. The photographer may struggle with, “a sense of intense inevitability, insofar as this kind of image seems to be one that the photographer ‘could not not photograph’.”Awareness may become a double bind for the photographer. It may force the photographer to photograph because he can do nothing else, because he is aware of the presence of ‘punctum’ within a space, even an empty ‘poetic space’, but this awareness may then blind him, may ossify the condition of revealing through his directed gaze, unless he is very attentive and drops, as Harding says, “memory and imagination and desire, and just take what’s given.”10 The object, as Baudrillard notes,“isolates itself and creates a sense of emptiness … and then it irradiates this emptiness,”11 but this irradiation of emptiness does require an awareness of it in order to stabilise the transgressive fluctuations of the ecstasy of photography (which are necessarily fluid), through the making of an image that, as Baudrillard notes, “may well retrieve and immobilise subjective and objective punctum from their ‘thunderous surroundings’.”12 Knowledge of awareness is a key to this immobilisation and image making. The philosopher Krishnamurti has interesting things to say about this process, and I think it is worth quoting him extensively here:

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”13

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Now apply this attention to the awareness of the photographer. If he does not create images that are prejudice, could this not stop a photographer ‘not not’ photographing because he sees spaces with clarity, not as acts of performativity, spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia?

Here an examination of the work of two photographers is instructive. The first, the early 20th century Parisian photographer Eugène Atget, brings to his empty street and parkscapes visions that elude the senses, visions that slip between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. These are not utopian spaces, not felicitous spaces that may be grasped and defined with the nostalgic fixity of spaces we love,14 but spaces of love that cannot be enclosed because Atget made no image of them.

I believe Atget moved his photographs onto a different spatio-temporal plane by not being aware of making images, aware-less-ness, dropping away the appendages of image making (technique, reality, artifice, reportage) by instinctively placing the camera where he wanted it, thus creating a unique artistic language. His images become a blend of the space of intimacy and world-space as he strains toward, “communion with the universe, in a word, space, the invisible space that man can live in nevertheless, and which surrounds him with countless presences.”15 These are not just ‘localised poetics’16 nor a memento of the absent, but the pre-essence of an intimate world space reinscribed through the vision (the transgressive glance not the steadfast gaze) of the photographer. Atget is not just absent or present, here or there,17 but neither here nor there. His images reverberate (retentir), in Minkowski’s sense of the word, with an essence of life that flows onward in terms of time and space independent of their causality.18″

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Excerpt from the paper Spaces That Matter: Awareness and Entropia in the Imaging of Place (2002). Read the full paper…

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in this posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Eugène Atget
Fireplace, Hôtel Matignon, former Austrian embassy, 57 rue de Varenne, 7th arrodissement
1905
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Boulevard de Strasbourg
1912
Albumen photograph
George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester

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Eugène Atget
Cabaret au Tambour, 62 quai de la Tournelle, 5th arrodissement
1908
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Street vendor, place Saint-Médard, 5th arrondissement
September 1898
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
‘Spring’, by the sculptor François Barois,
jardin des Tuileries, 1st arrondissement
1907
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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“The first comprehensive exhibition in Australia of Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) work will showcase over 200 photographs primarily from the more than 4000 strong collection of Musée Carnavalet, Paris with the important inclusion of Atget’s work, as compiled by Man Ray, from the collection of George Eastman House, Rochester, USA.

Atget was considered a commercial photographer who sold what he called ‘documents for artists’, ie. photographs of landscapes, close-up shots, genre scenes and other details that painters could use as reference. As soon as Atget turned his attention to photographing the streets of Paris, his work attracted the attention of leading institutions such as Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque Nationale which became his principal clients. It is in these photographs of Paris that we find the best of Atget, the artist who shows us a city remote from the clichés of the Belle Époque. Atget’s images of ‘old Paris’ depict areas that had not been touched by Baron Haussmann’s 19th century modernisation program of the city. We see empty streets and buildings, details that usually pass unnoticed, all presented as rigorous, original compositions that offer a mysterious group portrait of the city.

The exhibition is organised into 11 sections that correspond to the thematic groupings used by Atget himself. They are: small trades, Parisian types and shops 1898-1922; the streets of Paris 1898-1913; ornaments 1900-1921; interiors 1901-1910; vehicles 1903-1910; gardens 1898-1914; the Seine 1900-1923; the streets of Paris 1921-1924; and outside the city centre 1899-1913.

The equipment and techniques deployed by Atget link him to 19th-century photography. He had an 18 x 24 cm wooden, bellows camera which was heavy and had to be supported on a tripod. The use of glass plates allowed Atget to capture every tiny detail with great precision. Also traditional was his printing method, usually on albumen paper made light-sensitive with silver nitrate, exposed under natural light and subsequently gold-tinted. Atget’s vision of photography was, however, an astonishingly modern one. The photographs selected by Man Ray, who met Atget in the 1920s, indicate the immediate interest that the work aroused among the Surrealists because of the composition, ghosting, reflections, and its very mundanity. The first to appreciate his talents and importance as an artist were the photographer Berenice Abbott and Man Ray himself, both of whom lobbied to preserve Atget’s photographs.

As a result, he inspired artists and photographers such as Brassaï, the Surrealists, Walker Evans and Bernd & Hilla Becher amongst many others, and he can also be considered a starting-point for 20th-century documentary photography.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

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Eugène Atget
The former Collège de Chanac, 12 rue de Bièvre, 5th arrondissement
August 1900
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville
1921
Gelatin silver photograph
22.8 x 17.7 cm
Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Eugène Atget
Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville (detail)
1921
Gelatin silver photograph
22.8 x 17.7 cm
Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Eugène Atget
Rue Hautefeuille, 6th arrondissement
1898
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Shop sign, au Rémouleur
on the corner of the rue des Nonnains-d’Hyères and rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, 4th arrondissement
July 1899
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Endnotes

9. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. (trans. Richard Howard). New York: Hill and Wang, 1981, p.47, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.79.

10. See Endnote 2. I believe that this form of attentiveness to present experience is not the same as Featherstone’s fragmentation of time into affect-charged experiences of the presentness of the world in postmodern culture. “Postmodern everyday culture is … a culture of stylistic diversity and heterogeneity (comprising different parts or qualities), of an overload of imagery and simulations which lead to a loss of the referent or sense of reality. The subsequent fragmentation of time into a series of presents through a lack of capacity to chain signs and images into narrative sequences leads to a schizophrenic emphasis on vivid, immediate, isolated, affect-charged experiences of the presentness of the world – of intensities.”
Featherstone, Mike. Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: Sage Publications, 1991, p.124.

11. Baudrillard, Jean. The Transparency of Evil. (trans. James Benedict). London: Verso, 1993, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.80.

12. Baudrillard, Jean. The Art of Disappearance. (trans. Nicholas Zurbrugg). Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art, 1994, p.9, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.83.

13. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978, pp.130-131.

14. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.xxxv.

15. Ibid., p.203.

16. Palmer, Daniel. “Between Place and Non-Place: The Poetics of Empty Space,” in Palmer, Daniel (ed.,). Photofile Issue 62 (‘Fresh’). Sydney: Australian Centre for Photography, April 2001, p.47.

17. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.212.

18. See the editor’s note by Gilson, Etienne (ed.,) in Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.xvi.

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
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03
Apr
12

Exhibition: ‘Eugène Atget: “Documents pour artistes”‘ at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 9th April 2012

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“These are simply documents I make.”

Eugène Atget

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“One might think of Atget’s work at Sceaux as… a summation and as the consummate achievement of his work as a photographer – a coherent, uncompromising statement of what he had learned of his craft, and of how he had amplified and elaborated the sensibility with which he had begun. Or perhaps one might see the work at Sceaux as a portrait of Atget himself, not excluding petty flaws, but showing most clearly the boldness and certainty – what his old friend Calmettes called the intransigence – of his taste, his method, his vision.

John Szarkowski

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The first of two postings about the work of Eugène Atget, this exhibition at MOMA the first in twenty-five years to focus on his “Documents for artists.” Atget was my first hero in photography and the greatest influence on my early black and white photography before I departed and found my own voice as an artist. Through his photographs, his vision he remains a life-long friend. He taught me so much about where to place the camera and how to see the world. He made me aware. For that I am eternally grateful.

Many thankx to MOMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Eugène Atget
Coin, Boulevard de la Chapelle et rue Fleury 76,18e
June 1921
Matte albumen silver print
6 13/16 x 9″ (17.3 x 22.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Cour, 7 rue de Valence
June 1922
Matte albumen silver print
7 x 8 15/16″ (17.8 x 22.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Cour, 41 rue Broca
1912
Albumen silver print
6 5/8 x 8 1/4″ (16.9 x 21 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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“The sign above the entrance to Eugène Atget’s studio in Paris read Documents pour artistes (Documents for artists), declaring his modest ambition to create photographs for others to use as source material in their work. Atget (French, 1857–1927) made more than 8,500 pictures of Paris and its environs in a career that spanned over thirty years, from the late nineteenth century until his death. To facilitate access to this vast body of work for himself and his clients, he organized his photographs into discrete series, a model that guides the organization of this exhibition. The works are presented here in six groups, demonstrating Atget’s sustained attention to certain motifs or locations and his consistently inventive and elegant methods of rendering the complexity of the three-dimensional world on a flat, rectangular plate.

In 1925 the American artist Man Ray purchased forty-two photographs from Atget, who lived down the street from him in Montparnasse. Man Ray believed he detected a kindred Surrealist sensibility in the work, to which suggestion Atget replied, “These are simply documents I make.” This humility belies the extraordinary pictorial sophistication and beauty that is characteristic of much of Atget’s oeuvre and his role as touchstone and inspiration for subsequent generations of photographers, from Walker Evans to Lee Friedlander. This exhibition bears witness to his success, no matter the unassuming description he gave of his life’s work.

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A Note on the Prints

Atget made photographs with a view camera resting on a tripod. An example of his 24-by-18-centimeter glass plate negatives is on display here. Each print was made by exposing light-sensitive paper to the sun in direct contact with one of these negatives, which Atget numbered sequentially within each series. He frequently scratched the number into the emulsion on the negative, and thus it appears in reverse at the bottom of most prints. He also inscribed the number, along with the work’s title, in pencil on the verso of each print. These titles appear (with English translations where necessary) on the individual wall labels, preserving Atget’s occasionally idiosyncratic titling practices. The Abbott-Levy Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, to which the prints in this exhibition belong (except where noted), is composed of close to 5,000 distinct photographs and 1,200 glass plate negatives that were in Atget’s studio at the time of his death. The Museum purchased this collection in 1968 from photographer Berenice Abbott and art dealer Julien Levy, thanks to the unflagging efforts of John Szarkowski, then director of the Department of Photography, and in part to the generosity of Shirley C. Burden.

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Fifth arrondissement 

For more than thirty years, Atget photographed in and around Paris. Curiously, given the depth of this investigation, he never photographed the Eiffel Tower, generally avoided the grand boulevards, and eschewed picture postcard views. Instead Atget focused on the fabric of the city: facades of individual buildings (both notable and anonymous), meandering streetscapes, details of stonework and ironwork, churches, shops, and the occasional monument. Even a selective cross section of the photographs he made in the fifth arrondissement over the course of his career suggests that his approach, while far from systematic, might yet be termed comprehensive.

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Courtyards

Atget clearly relished the metaphorical and physical aspects of the courtyard – a space that hovers between public and private, interior and exterior – and he photographed scores of them, both rural and urban. The motif was chosen as the backdrop for what was likely Atget’s first photograph of an automobile (Cour, 7 rue de Valence), and it was versatile enough to transform itself depending on where Atget placed his camera (see the two views of the courtyard at 27 quai d’Anjou). The dark areas that appear in the upper corners of some prints are the result of vignetting: a technique in which the light coming through the camera’s lens does not fully cover the glass plate negative, allowing Atget to create an arched pictorial space that echoed the physical one before his camera.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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Eugène Atget
Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève
June 1925
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
6 11/16 x 8 3/4″ (17 x 22.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Maison où Mourut Voltaire en 1778, 1 rue de Beaune
1909
Albumen silver print
8 9/16 x 7″ (21.8 x 17.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Balcon, 17 rue du Petit-Pont
1913
Albumen silver print
8 5/8 x 6 15/16″ (21.9 x 17.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget: “Documents pour artistes presents six fresh and highly focused cross sections of the career of master photographer Eugène Atget (French, 1857 – 1927), drawn exclusively from The Museum of Modern Art’s unparalleled holdings of his work. The exhibition, on view at MoMA from February 6 through April 9, 2012, gets its name from the sign outside Atget’s studio door, which declared his modest ambition to create documents for other artists to use as source material in their own work. Whether exploring Paris’s fifth arrondissement across several decades, or the decayed grandeur of parks at Sceaux in a remarkable creative outburst at the twilight of his career, Atget’s lens captured the essence of his chosen subject with increasing complexity and sensitivity. Also featured are Atget’s photographs made in the Luxembourg gardens; his urban and rural courtyards; his pictures of select Parisian types; and his photographs of mannequins, store windows, and street fairs, which deeply appealed to Surrealist artists living in Paris after the First World War. The exhibition is organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Atget made more than 8,500 pictures of Paris and its environs in a career that spanned over 30 years, from the late-19th century until his death. To facilitate access to this vast body of work for himself and his clients, he organized his photographs into discrete series, a model that guides the organization of this exhibition. More than 100 photographs are presented in six groups, demonstrating Atget’s sustained attention to certain motifs or locations and his consistently inventive and elegant methods of rendering the complexity of the three-dimensional world on a flat, rectangular plate.

With seemingly inexhaustible curiosity, Atget photographed the streets of Paris. Eschewing picture-postcard views, and, remarkably, never once photographing the Eiffel Tower, he instead focused on the fabric of the city, taking pictures along the Seine, in every arrondissement, and in the “zone” outside the fortified wall that encompassed Paris at the time. His photographs of the fifth arrondissement are typical of this approach, and include facades of individual buildings (both notable and anonymous), meandering streetscapes, details of stonework and ironwork, churches, and the occasional monument.

Between March and June 1925, Atget made 66 photographs in the abandoned Parc de Sceaux, on the outskirts of Paris, almost half of which are on view in this exhibition. His approach was confident and personal, even quixotic, and his notations of the time of day for certain exposures read almost like diary entries. These photographs have long been recognized as among Atget’s finest, and this is the first opportunity for audiences outside of France to appreciate the full diversity and richness of this accomplishment.

Atget photographed the Jardin de Luxembourg more than any other Parisian park, likely reflecting his preference for its character and its proximity to his home and studio on rue Campagne-Première in Montparnasse. His early photographs there tend to capture human activity – children with their governesses or men conversing in the shade – but this gave way to a more focused exploration of the garden’s botanical and sculptural components following the First World War, and culminated in studies that delicately balance masses of light and shadow, as is typical of Atget’s late work.

Atget firmly resisted public association with the Surrealists, yet his work – in particular his photographs of shop windows, mannequins, and the street fairs around Paris – captured the eye of artists with decidedly avant-garde inclinations, such as Man Ray and Tristan Tzara. Man Ray lived down the street from Atget, and the young American photographer Berenice Abbott, while working as Man Ray’s studio assistant, made Atget’s acquaintance in the mid-1920s – a relationship that ultimately brought the contents of Atget’s studio at the time of his death to MoMA, almost 40 years later.

Atget clearly relished the metaphorical and physical aspects of the courtyard – a space that hovers between public and private, interior and exterior – and he photographed scores of them, both rural and urban. This exhibition marks the first time these pictures have been grouped together, allowing the public to appreciate previously unexplored aspects of the Abbott-Levy Collection, which includes prints of nearly 5,000 different images.

Only a tiny fraction of the negatives Atget exposed during his lifetime are photographs of people, yet they have attracted attention disproportionate to their number. With few exceptions, this segment of his creative output can be divided into three types: street merchants (petits métiers); ragpickers (chiffonniers) or Romanies (romanichels, or Gypsies), who lived in impermanent structures just outside the fortified wall surrounding Paris; and prostitutes. As with each section of this exhibition, Atget’s career is represented by the finest prints drawn from critically distinct and essential aspects of his practice, allowing a fresh appreciation of photography’s first modern master.”

Press release from the MOMA website

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Eugène Atget
Luxembourg
1923-25
Matte albumen silver print
6 7/8 x 9″ (17.5 x 22.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Luxembourg
1923-25
Matte albumen silver print
7 x 8 13/16″ (17.8 x 22.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Luxembourg
1902-03
Albumen silver print
6 5/8 x 8 3/8″ (16.8 x 21.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Jardin de Luxembourg 

Atget photographed the Jardin de Luxembourg more than any other Parisian park, likely reflecting his preference for its character as well as its proximity to his home and studio on rue Campagne-Première in Montparnasse (about a ten-minute walk away). His photographs of the gardens made around 1900 tend to capture human activity (children with their governesses, men conversing in the shade), but this gave way to a more focused exploration of the garden’s botanical and sculptural components following the First World War and culminated in studies that delicately balance masses of light and shadow, typical of Atget’s late work.

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Parc de Sceaux 

Between March and June 1925, Atget made sixty-six photographs in the abandoned Parc de Sceaux, on the outskirts of Paris. His approach was confident and personal, even quixotic, and his notations of the time of day for certain exposures read almost like diary entries. John Szarkowski wrote of this body of work: “One might think of Atget’s work at Sceaux as… a summation and as the consummate achievement of his work as a photographer – a coherent, uncompromising statement of what he had learned of his craft, and of how he had amplified and elaborated the sensibility with which he had begun. Or perhaps one might see the work at Sceaux as a portrait of Atget himself, not excluding petty flaws, but showing most clearly the boldness and certainty – what his old friend Calmettes called the intransigence – of his taste, his method, his vision. Atget made his last photograph at Sceaux after its restoration had begun. He perceived that the effort to tidy the grounds in anticipation of their conversion to a public park would fundamentally alter the untended, decayed grandeur that had been his muse.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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Eugène Atget
Parc de Sceaux
June 1925
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
7 x 8 7/8″ (17.8 x 22.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Parc de Sceaux, mars, 8 h. matin
1925
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
7 1/16 x 8 13/16″ (17.9 x 22.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Parc de Sceaux, 7 h. matin
March 1925
Matte albumen silver print
6 15/16 x 9 1/16″ (17.6 x 23 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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People of Paris 

Only a tiny fraction of the negatives Atget exposed during his lifetime feature the human figure as a central element. With few exceptions, this segment of his creative output can be divided into three types: street merchants (petits métiers); zoniers—ragpickers (chiffonniers) and Romanies (romanichels, or Gypsies)—who lived in impermanent structures in the zone just outside the fortified wall surrounding Paris; and prostitutes. The painter André Dignimont commissioned Atget to pursue this third subject in the spring of 1921, but the decidedly untawdry resulting images of brothels and prostitutes are only obliquely suggestive of the nature of their trade, so it is not difficult to imagine why the commission was concluded after only about a dozen negatives.

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Surrogates and the Surreal 

Atget’s photograph Pendant l’éclipse (During the eclipse) was featured on the cover of the seventh issue of the Parisian Surrealists’ publication La Révolution surréaliste, with the caption Les Dernières Conversions (The last converts), in June 1926. The picture was uncredited, as were the two additional photographs reproduced inside. Although Atget firmly resisted the association, his work – in particular his photographs of shop windows, mannequins, and the street fairs around Paris – had captured the attention of artists with decidedly avant-garde inclinations, such as Man Ray and Tristan Tzara. Man Ray lived on the same street as Atget, and the young American photographer Berenice Abbott (working as Man Ray’s studio assistant) learned of the French photographer and made his acquaintance in the mid-1920s – a relationship that ultimately brought the contents of Atget’s studio at the time of his death (in 1927) to The Museum of Modern Art almost forty years later.

Wall text from the exhibition

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Eugène Atget
Fête du Trône
1925
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
6 7/16 x 8 7/16″ (16.4 x 21.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Fête de Vaugirard
1926
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
6 13/16 x 8 3/4″ (17.3 x 22.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Avenue des Gobelins
1925
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
8 1/4 x 6 1/2″ (21 x 16.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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Eugène Atget
Romanichels, groupe
1912
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
8 3/8 x 6 11/16″ (21.2 x 17 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

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The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Friday, 10:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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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: ‘Mask’ 1994

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