Eugène Atget


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French photographer, whose studies of Paris and Parisians are now widely acclaimed.

Atget was born in Bordeaux into a bourgeois family but, orphaned young, was brought up by an uncle – a stationmaster in the Gironde. In his teens, Atget went to sea but he later turned to acting. During this time he met the actress who was to be his lifelong companion. They toured provincial theatres together but Atget's short stature denied him all but minor roles. At the age of forty Atget finally settled in Paris. He first tried painting and then, in 1898, set himself up as ‘photographe d'art’. He managed to scrape a living by selling his photographs of the city's historic buildings, fountains, and other architectural features to museums and galleries. However, he also recorded other aspects of Paris: the people both in splendour and poverty, the streets and houses, and the natural beauty of the trees and flowers. Atget's work is even more remarkable in view of the relatively simple equipment he used, requiring long exposure times. He therefore often worked in the early mornings to avoid traffic, giving his pictures a characteristic light and atmosphere. Artists, including Braque and Utrillo, bought his pictures as aides-mémoire and he was making a modest living. World War I caused a reversal in his fortunes, although he still sold his work sporadically and in 1921 received a commission to photograph the brothels of Paris to illustrate a book. Only towards the end of his life did his work receive due recognition. In 1926, four of his pictures were published in La Révolution surréaliste, including his famous study of tailor's dummies in a shop window. In his final year, Atget's work came to the attention of Man's assistant, Berenice Abbott, who was largely responsible for preserving his pictures and presenting them to the world.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.

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