Collection 1880s–1940s

Eugène Atget. Rue des Chantres. Avril-Mai 1923 571

Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, Approx. 8 11/16 × 7 1/16" (22 × 18 cm). Abbott-Levy Collection. Partial gift of Shirley C. Burden

Curator, Sarah Meister: We're looking at a photograph by Eugene Atget. Atget was known for taking pictures of Paris—street scenes, often made early in the morning, and his process meant that there are generally very few people in his pictures.

It's important to know that Atget was working with a large view camera on a tripod, which has a capacity for holding great detail. The only downside was that it took a fair amount of time to expose, so it wasn't ideally suited to making pictures of people. It was better used, and actually Atget used it more frequently, to take pictures of the built environment.

These images aren't cropped at all. In fact, they are what we call contact prints. And Atget's way of printing was to place a piece of photographic paper in contact with these negatives, squeeze them together, and place it out in the sun, so the image would emerge on the paper through the action of light, through the negative.

Atget was very clear about why he made photographs. He had a sign outside his studio that said 'documentes pour artistes', which means documents for artist. He had a very straightforward, modest approach to photography. Now, in fact, what he made were extraordinary photographs that really explored the nature of looking through a camera.

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