Atget: The pure poetry of Paris – FINISHED!!

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Reviewed on 05/3/2012 | No Reviews

Eugène Atget, 1927Berenice Abbott © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, New York

What is good photography all about? It’s about reality, you might answer, about this single moment of truth that strikes us. Right. But then, at the end, it’s all about poetry, isn’t it? Nobody else has captured the pure beauty and mystery of Paris better than Eugène Atget. The Musée Carnavalet is now celebrating him with a splendid exhibition.

Let’s start at the end, let’s start with the portrait Berenice Albott took of Eugène Atget, her spiritual father, in 1927. It shows Atget at the end of his life: a man who had spent his life behind the camera shown in front of it. In his right hand he holds his glasses, his eyes seem to ask a question. The photo has something disconcerting. It is as if you could see his soul.

A few days later, Atget died – leaving the most impressive records of Paris ever created. About 10 000 prints. Roaming the streets of Paris between 1898 and 1924, he had became the most important chronicler of the city.

All he had wanted was to document and record a Paris he felt was disappearing and he already called “the old Paris”. Back than, buildings were being systematically destroyed construct a new Paris after the ideas and plans of Baron Haussmann.

A perfect match

But Atget turned out being much more than just an obsessive chronicler. He became the father of documentary photography and an immense artist able of catching the pure poetry of Paris.

The exhibition is a result of a perfect match: Musée Carnavalet, the museum dedicated to the history of Paris, meets the man who was obsessively recorded a vanishing world. 230 prints are on display at the exhibition, bringing together well-known images, and other previously unseen and most surprising works.

But what strikes us most is the emptiness of his photos. Paris seems uninhabited, empty. The streets are often devoid or seemingly devoid of people making of the city, the buildings, storefronts, the bridges and parks and even architectural details the main character of the story he wants to tell. That’s what makes his photos so mysterious.

The Balzac of the camera

When he captured human beings in his photos, it was always deliberately, showing the life of the little people of Paris.

“The Balzac of the camera”, as Albott had called him, never considered himself as an artist. Today he’s one of the best known French photographers outside of France. His work not only influenced successors like Henry Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, but was also key for the development of American documentary photography. The work of Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander and even Diane Arbus are unimaginable without him.

Musée Carnavalet: Eugène Atget/Paris – 25 of April until 29 of July 2012 – FINISHED!!
23, rue de Sévigné
75003 Paris
Tél.: +33 (0)1 01 44 59 58 58
Open every day Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-6pm
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