Eugène Atget was a French photographer best known for his photographs of the architecture and streets of Paris. Photography became his passion in the late 1880s. In 1898, Atget began photographing Paris using a large format view camera. He is known for his expansive views and diffuse light in his photographs, many of which were taken at dawn. Atget’s photographs documented Paris’ rapid change; many areas he photographed were soon destroyed in massive modernization projects. Nevertheless, he produced many of the most beautiful pictures in his final years, including some of his best shots of shop windows, street fairs, and the Parc de Saint-Cloud, along with many of his most touching pictures of the still rural towns surrounding Paris.
His framings and light treatments explored new perspectives in photography that allowed him to document historical documents of the world and subtly comment on them. In his compositions, he avoids famous landmarks in favor of more minor scales, sharing his sense of vision. His method of photographing with an old-fashioned wooden camera and a rapid rectilinear lens, coupled with the 18x24cm glass negatives that were common at the time, led to an innovative documentary aesthetic. When Atget walked the streets of old Paris on foot, descended the metro staircases, or traveled by train to the suburbs, he had to carry a combined weight of around 20 kilos. Despite the burdensome camera, his work is associated with the carefree flâneur of modern times.
As an artisan, Atget has become a cardinal reference in the Surrealist art movement, while Man Ray and Berenice Abbott have contributed to revealing his significance to photography. His work destabilizes the fixed categories of realism and art by combining dreamlike qualities and documentary purposes. As a result, several artists admired Atget’s photographs, including Man Ray, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. Man Ray even used one of Atget’s photographs to cover his surrealist magazine la Révolution surréaliste.
Here are some stunning historical photographs by Eugène Atget that will take you back to old Paris, from 1898 to 1925.