“Don’t put my name on it. These are simply documents I make,” told Eugène Atget to Man Ray who used “Pendant l’éclipse” (“During the Eclipse”, 1912) as cover of his magazine la Révolution surréaliste:
A man of an astonishing modesty, Atget took more than 10.000 photographs with a large-format wooden bellows camera with a rapid rectilinear lens, exposing and developing the images as 18x24cm glass dry plates. The antiquated tools forced him into long exposures and very early hours of work, but it was this wonderful dedication that put the wispy, nostalgic light on the Parisienne scenery, as it was immortalised by Atget.
“For more than twenty years by my own work and personal initiative, I have gathered from all the old streets of Vieux Paris photographic plates, 18 x 24 format, artistic documents of the beautiful civil architecture of the 16th to the 19th century: the old hôtels, historic or curious houses, beautiful facades, beautiful doors, beautiful woodwork, door knockers, old fountains… This vast artistic and documentary collection is today complete. I can truthfully say that I possess all of Vieux Paris.” (Eugène Atget)
Atget “looked for what was unremarked, a forgotten, cast adrift. And thus such pictures . . . work against the exotic, romantically sonorous names of the cities; they suck the aura out of reality like water from a sinking ship.” (Walter Benjamin, “Little History of Photography”, 1931) “…as man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to the ritual value. To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.” (Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, 1936)
Photos by Eugène Atget (February 12, 1857 – August 4, 1927)