Eugène Atget - Cour de Rouen (boulevard St. Germain)
Digital Accession Number: 1978:1628:0049.0001..Maker: Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)..Title: Cour de Rouen (boulevard St. Germain)..Date: 1898..Medium: albumen print..Dimensions: 21.2 x 17.8 cm. (trimmed)...George Eastman House Collection..General – information about the George Eastman House Photography Collection is available at www.eastmanhouse.org/inc/collections/photography.php ( http://www.eastmanhouse.org/inc/collections/photography.php ) ...For information on obtaining reproductions go to: www.eastmanhouse.org/flickr/index.php?pid=197816280049 ( http://www.eastmanhouse.org/flickr/index.php?pid=197816280049 ) .
Born in 1857, in Libourne near Bordeaux and raised by his uncle, Atget’s youth was molded by his time as a sailor. Upon his return from the sea, Atget turned to the stage and pursued an acting career in provincial cities and later in Paris suburbs. After minor success as an actor, Atget abandoned the stage and at the age of forty took up painting, then quickly turned to his true life’s work as a photographer. For the next thirty years, until just a few short months before his death in 1927, Atget undertook a systematic documentation of the city of Paris, creating approximately five thousand negatives and nearly ten thousand prints. Because he refused to work with the latest advances in photographic technology, Atget’s images evoke a sense of timelessness, due in part to the slower exposure times and the pre-visualization of the final image that was required. Atget produced glass plate negatives, using an 18 x 24 cm. view camera that was fitted with a brass rectilinear lens and had no shutter. Rather, Atget would simply remove the cap from the lens and capture the scene before him, allowing any motion to appear as a blur. Atget carried this large camera around Paris as he worked to document its essential elements: streets, shop windows, building facades, architectural details, and the landscape of the public gardens and parks in and around the city. Atget’s unique documentation of the French capital captured the eye of surrealist photographer Man Ray who worked to promote Atget as one of the pre-eminent photographic modernists. Later, the efforts of Berenice Abbott, who acquired Atget’s negatives and prints after his death, finally situated Atget’s work in the history of photography where it continues to gain in stature and influence.
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.