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Bitumiers by Atget. Source: Moma

Eugène Atget

Early in his career, Eugène Atget also worked with midday light for the objective quality that it gave to his photographs. As he developed a more personal style in his later work, he changed the time of day he took pictures.

The works of Atget (1857–1927) are owned by Moma and available for online viewing on Moma’s website. I studied these images to understand his use of light.

Bitumiers by Atget. Source: Moma
Bitumiers by Atget. Source: Moma

This image is typical of Atget’s approach to processing, with the background to the subjects dodged to provide contrast. In some images this is done to the extent that details are almost lost in the highlights. This later photo, from 1913 has no detail in the sky.

Zoniers, Porte de Choisy by Atget. Source: Moma
Zoniers, Porte de Choisy by Atget. Source: Moma

The V&A, who purchased some 600 works, tell us that ‘ [Atget’s] project to record ‘Old Paris’ began around 1897 and continued until the 1920s. In it, Atget was driven by the disappearance of buildings as schemes of modernisation swept the city.’ Despite Atget’s original intention, the V&A explain that today ‘Atget is admired less as a record photographer and more as a forerunner of Surrealism and of modern approaches to the art of photography’. The V&A present the following image as an example of ‘unintentional surrealist’ work:

Source: V&A
Source: V&A

One important lesson I take from Atget’s work is to experiment with the loss of details in areas of highlights. I’m unsure how this will work with colour images, but have seen it used to great effect by Sally Mann in her black and white work.

References

Moma website, artist page [online]. http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=229 [accessed 30.5.15]

V&A website, artist page [online] http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/eugene-atget/ [accessed 30.5.15]

Bibliography

George Eastman House, Atget Flickr album [online] – https://flic.kr/s/aHsjm5AMZe [accessed 30.5.15]

 

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