The Documenter

I saw the Atget exhibition at MoMA the other day. Atget is one of those photographers I know I’m supposed to like but up to this point had no genuine feeling for.

However this exhibition gave me a new appreciation of the man.


I had always associated Atget with images of architecture but the exhibition introduced me to his shots of people. In particular, I found his shots of gypsies fascinating. To think these were taken 70 or 80 years before Koudelka did his famous photos of the same subject.They reveal a fine eye for composition and a good connection with his subjects



Also his shots of street sellers where intriguing, simply because many photographers who followed him have chosen this subject. For example, you might say that Irving Penn in his ‘Small trade’ series owes something to these images.


Then there were the pictures of mannequins in department store windows. This was probably not an obvious choice to shoot at the time but they definitely have a surreal quality (interestingly Man Ray was a fan of his work and brought several prints)

Even the images of statues in the Luxembourg gardens on closer inspection have a mood to them that I hadn’t fully appreciated until now.



Atget thought of himself as a mere documenter of the present, who created images that might be used by more artistic types as inspiration. On the evidence of this exhibition he underestimated himself.



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