Photographs from MoMA
The work of Eugène Atget is one of the richest pictorial embodiments of French culture-poised between tradition and experiment. In the rapid unfolding of modernist photography in the early 20th century, Atget’s work soon became the exemplar of the medium’s new creative power-the single most vital force that propelled photography from its documentary past into its artistic future.
Atget has rightly been considered first and foremost a photographer of Paris and its environs. This exhibition will feature outstanding examples from several of Atget’s bodies of work.
Many of his earliest images were made in the Somme, a storied agrarian region in northern France. Atget recorded several hundred images of rural scenes and flora for his “landscape documents” series.
Photographs of Parisian architecture and architectural decoration were collected into a series titled “The Art of Old Paris.” In documenting how Paris was transformed through modernization, Atget turned his attention beyond the city’s threatened architecture to its marginalized populations. In 1913 he started the series “Picturesque Paris”, working systematically in what was known as the zone, an area immediately outside the 19th-century fortifications that ringed Paris until after World War I.
Atget’s most moving and meditative photographs were made in the last decade of his life at the parks and gardens in and around Paris. These late photographs have a qualitatively different sensibility: formally bold and synthetic, they are also atmospheric and mysterious.