Eugène Atget

Eugène Atget, born in 1857 was a French pioneer in documentary style photography mainly noted for his major body of work which was to capture and document the streets of Paris before the unstoppable transition of modernisation. Throughout his life he was largely unheard of going about his work in relatively anonymity. When he began his career at the age of 40 after a failed attempt at acting his techniques, skills and equipment were already dated in a time of face paced improvements in photography however he wasn’t progressive and by his death 30 years later his equipment was antique. Although his equipment lacked the latest technology available to him this didn’t stop him producing elegant and simple photographs, that truly represent the city of Paris. It wasn’t until a few years before his death in 1927 was Atget’s work noted upon for its brilliance, he attracted artists like Picasso, Henri Matisse and Man Ray who each bought some of his work, Man Ray went on to use one of the photos ‘During the eclipse’ for the cover of his magazine ‘la Révoloution Surréaliste.’

Due to his use of older technology Eugène Atget’s work maintain characteristics of a wide angle view, draw out feeling of light due to longer exposures required which often required him to work in the early or late hours of the day when there are less people on the streets. Also his lack of varied scenes, he tended to steer clear of the more mainstream and populated areas of Paris instead focusing on the narrowed streets and parks.

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This first image of Atget’s was taken in 1921, showing a prostitute at her door. This simple composition consisting of the focal point in the center of the frame works well with the inside of the house in shadow and the outside well lit, while the subjects positioning of one pointed leg draws the viewer up and along her body. This simple and yet perfect composition is quintessential for his work from what I have seen so far.

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This second image of his work, the aforementioned ‘During the Eclipse’ was taken during the solar eclipse of 1912 is a brilliant photograph showing a group of people all protecting there eyes while viewing a solar eclipse in Paris, the once again basic composition is suited in this instance showing the large group of people in front of the Paris architecture. I like how this captures a specific moment and the general people of Paris together taking it in.

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This photograph taken by myself shows in a similar composition to that of Eugène Atget’s style of composition, straight on and with the subject drawing the focus into the image against a backdrop of city architecture. This image of mine was taken on the South Bank in London, I used the large puddle and reflection to get a number of images before the two children on scooters arrived and once they had took two more exposures with this being the last, I found their placement in the frame added depth and further interest and a particular ‘moment’ sought by documentary/street photographers.

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