DAY TWELVE Eugène Atget 4 April 2020
Eugene #Atget was one of my fathers three favourite photographers, no doubt at least partly because the France and Paris he photographed was familiar to him. Atget died in 1927, when my Dad was 7. I find Atget an interesting photographer and a true documentarian but I find many of his images curiously haphazard, which I guess accurately reflects his overall aim – to document. Atget was happy to let the artists do the art using his work, indeed he NEEDED them to, in order to survive. For that reason he produced understated work often (but not always!) devoid of artistic pretensions and that to me is part of his significance.
In addition, arguably more importantly and I think inadvertently on his part, Atget, created “Street Photography” as a genre and those of us who indulge in this kind of image-making owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Atget was there first and paved the way for all the hundreds of thousands and in the digital age, now millions who have followed him.
So for me personally, his importance lies not so much in his images, although he did do some great ones, but more in the way that he worked and the way in which he needed to make his images work (in the commercial sense) for him. Unlike the Cartier Bressons (to follow) of this world he couldn’t swan around, living off the family fortune, hanging out and taking pictures of what he fancied. (This is not a criticism of the work of wealthy photographers by the way, but rather an acknowledgement that financial security gives you the freedom to do work outside of commercial constraints.). The image I have chosen is one that to me accurately sums up Atget and his overall approach. Yes, he photographed people as well but when I think of Atget, I think of images like this one: