Although he studied drama in Paris in the mid-1870s and was an itinerant actor for some years thereafter, Eugène Atget channeled his theatrical sensibility in a more deliberate, contemplative, and purely visual art form. In 1898 he began to photograph old Paris, and within a decade he had made a name as an assiduous documenter of the art and architecture of the ancien régime. Except for a brief attempt to capture life in the streets early in his career, Atget rarely photographed people, preferring the streets themselves as well as the gardens, courtyards, and other areas that constituted the cultural stage.Of the thousands of sites Atget photographed in Paris and its environs, Versailles was his chief obsession. He worked there sporadically from 1901 until his death, not only because the royal palace was historically preeminent but also because he discovered many truths in the vast gardens. He came to see that they embodied the essence of French civilization—the characteristic combination of elegance, order, and Baroque excess that repeats, as art, the dichotomies of nature. He also learned that the photographer’s main problem, like that of the landscape architect, is to establish a point of view that directs the movement of the imagination.
Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris)