Wednesday, 5 December 2012
Eugene Atget (1857 - 1927) photographed Paris for thirty years. With a singleness of purpose rarely excelled, he made his incredible monument to a city. When he died in 1927 he left approximately 2000 eight by ten inches glass plates and almost 10,000 prints, not counting the plates deposited in the Palais Royale archives. Here is one of the most extraordinary achievements of photography. Yet we know almost nothing of Atget as a person and less of Atget as a photographer. Most of the buildings and places he photographed can still be visited. But what has been lost is the way of life and a culture that bound people tightly to the fabric of a place: the old Paris. While his aesthetic was modern, his concern was for the past, showing a fundamental anxiety about the unstoppable and often destructive progress of modernity. It is this prescient ambivalence towards the future and his paean to the passing of time that makes Atget's Paris so resonant and fresh.