Atget: photographe de Paris, 1930
Author: Eugène Atget
Publisher: E. Weyhe, New York City
Printed in: France
About this book:
This book of Eugène Atget's work, published three years after his death, presents a certain problem. Chosen by Berenice Abbott and Henri Jonquières from the former's collection of his work, the selection gives a partial and quite particular view of his photographic practice: a modernist, aestheticized interpretation. But if the editors had known more about Atget's commercial practice, the details of his career and his personal philosophies, they would have acknowledged that any selection of around 100 works from an oeuvre approaching 8,500 images, even if chosen by the photographer himself, would tell only a small part of the story.
Whether or not, as some commentators have asserted, Atget is being distorted here, and a journey-man documentary photographer has been miscast as a modernist, one thing is quite clear: the selection was made with the best of intentions, out of respect for the old man's work, and it shows precisely how it spoke to a younger generation of photographers. By that criterion it is an excellent selection, containing many wonderful pictures and giving exquisite visual pleasure - the most striking images from more than thirty years spent documenting the streets, buildings, parks and gardens of Old Paris. No matter how one might try to rationalize, to demystify, contextualize and deconstruct Atget's pictures and professional practice, there is an extra dimension to this work, described as follows by Max Kozloff: "The viewer of these images falls prey to a loveliness unbounded by any consideration of trade. Going through this archive more carefully, one can be enveloped in reserves of poignancy, for which the extensively modest function of the imagery and the mechanistic aspects of its coverage do not prepare."
The book's view of Atget, amplified over the years by Abbott in numerous exhibitions, in the French and German editions of this book, and in her later publication, The World of Atget, dominated for many years, but even as our knowledge and understanding of the photographer's life and work grows, we still look to these pictures for the essence of Atget. Ultimately, however, his own aims and intentions remain as ineffable as ever. In a contemporary review of the book, the young Walker Evans expressed a clear idea of what Atget at least meant to photographers and documentary/modernist practice: 'His general note is lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail, overall of which is thrown a poetry which is not "the poetry of the street" or "the poetry of Paris" but the projection of Atget's person.'