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Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris)

Eugene Atget, the French photographer, is best known for his photographs of the architecture and street scenes of Paris, France, late 19th and early 20th centuries. He captured the city's architecture and daily life. His work has been celebrated for its historical importance. Atget's work was rediscovered by American photographer Berenice Abbott.

Eugène Atget, a pioneer of documentary photography, was born 12 February 1857 in Libourne, France. His father, carriage builder died when he was five years old, and mother died shortly after. In Paris, in 1878, he was drafted for military service and was expelled from drama school because he could attend class only part-time. He became an actor with a traveling group, performing in the Paris suburbs. Later he gave up acting because of an infection of his vocal cords and took up painting in a province without success. In 1888 he took his first photographs. In 1890, Atget moved back to Paris and became a professional photographer, selling his works to artists: studies for painters, architects, and stage designers. It was not until 1897 that Atget started a project he would continue for the rest of his life: Old Paris. Atget photographed Paris with a large-format wooden camera with a rapid rectilinear lens. The images were exposed and developed as 18x24cm glass dry plates. While being a photographer Atget still also called himself an actor, giving lectures and readings. Starting in 1898, institutions such as the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris bought his photographs and commissioned him to systematically photograph old buildings in Paris. In 1920–21, he sold thousands of his negatives to institutions. Financially independent, he took up photographing the parks of Versailles, Saint-Cloud, and Sceaux and produced a series of photographs of prostitutes. Atget had published almost no work before "his genius was first recognized" by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, two young American photographers working in Paris at the time. When Berenice Abbott reportedly asked him if the French appreciated his art, he responded, "No, only young foreigners." His death went largely unnoticed at the time outside the circle of curators who had bought his albums and kept them interred, mostly unseen. Atget never said or wrote anything about his work, thus leaving no artistic statements.

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Date

1850 - 1900
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Source

Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

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