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).
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 …
One could go on. I guess you either get it or you don’t. For me it took time.
But I strongly get it.
- The Photographer’s Eye, John Szarkowski; Museum of Modern Art, 1966 ↩