"For twenty years, through my work and personal initiative, I took photographs in all the old streets of old Paris, artistic documents of the beautiful architecture of the 16th to 19th centuries... I can say that I have Paris in my collection." -Eugène Atget, 1920.
Eugène Atget was an early pioneer in photography whose quiet and aesthetic compositions surpass his modestly expressed documentary ambitions. His vast corpus of some 10,000 works contains many architectural views of Paris streets, monuments and gardens as well as classical subjects like still lifes, nudes, and landscapes. He sold his photographs to museums, libraries and archives. He used a standard box camera and tripod and printed his negatives on albumen-silver paper. Towards the end of his life the Surrealists took an active interest in his photography and they were published in the Révolution surréaliste.
Orphaned at a very early age, Atget was raised by his maternal grandparents. He studied to become an actor, but later took up painting. He felt he didn't have the talent for painting and started photography with the idea of providing source material for painters and illustrators. His photography would have a purely documentary and practical function. He was isolated from other photographers and independent from the different stylistic currents like pictorialism. However, he imbued his subjects with his poetic sensibility, creating haunting early morning views of Paris, oddly devoid of figures.
Atget's production was large and he remained stubbornly faithful to his original aesthetic aims. While his photography became influential among the surrealists, his straight unmanipulated approach to documentary photography would find favour with later photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans and a later generation of street photographers that would follow a couple of decades after his death. Eugène Atget died largely unrecognized and impoverished.