It has taken me a long time to really appreciate Eugène Atget. Cartier-Bresson is easy ‘to get’. So is Frank, Friedlander, Kertész, Ray-Jones, Parr, Brandt, Stieglitz even. In a way, they are all story-tellers. But Atget?

Perhaps it’s a function of age?

John Szarkowski once said: ‘the photographer learns in two way: first, from a worker’s intimate understanding of his tools and materials … and second he learns from other photographs, which present themselves in an unending stream’ 1.

But what to learn from Atget?

He was no master technician, that’s for sure. When I leaf through my books of his photographs, I shudder at some of the technical imperfections. But what comes through strongly is ‘Mood’, (which, incidentally, Heidegger identified as a profound requirement of our relating to things).

Eugène Atget; Versailles, Grand Trianon ( The National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa)

His people-less streets of Paris and environs, (which we will never see again), his pictures of statues locked into an everlasting gaze, his perfectly still waters … the lack of shadow detail … the posturing of the camera into the sun …

Eugène Atget; Versailles: Venus sortant du bain. (Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques et des Sites, Paris).

One could go on. I guess you either get it or you don’t. For me it took time.

Eugène Atget, Parc des Sceaux

But I strongly get it.

  1. The Photographer’s Eye, John Szarkowski; Museum of Modern Art, 1966