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Atget: Photographe de Paris
- New York
About the Publication
In the 1920s the photographs of the Eugène Atget came to the attention of Man Ray and the group of photographers and Surrealists in his circle. Atget (French, 1857–1927), who lived a few doors away from the Man Ray Studio in Montmartre, sold his pictures of Paris to anyone interested—to decorators, historians, artists, journalists, and publishers—and sometimes at the sidewalk cafés in this lively quarter where many artists congregated. Impressed by the quality of Atget’s images, Man Ray acquired some prints, and through him several were published in the journal La Révolution surréaliste in 1926. This broadcast Atget’s name, but what really catapulted him to international fame were the efforts of Berenice Abbott, Man Ray’s American assistant, who bought his negatives and prints after his death. She made sure that his work was included in international exhibitions (including Film und Foto in Stuttgart in 1929) and that he was seen as a paternal figure of the twentieth-century’s avant-garde.
Abbott returned to the United States in 1929, bringing Atget’s work with her. Through Julien Levy (later of the Julien Levy Gallery), who was working as an apprentice in a New York gallery, she met Erhard Weyhe, who owned Weyhe Gallery and the associated art bookstore. Weyhe agreed to publish an American edition of the handsome volume of Atget photographs that Abbott had arranged with Henri Jonquières to publish in Paris. This monograph, Atget: Photographe de Paris, was published simultaneously in New York, Paris, and Leipzig in 1930, the first book of photographs to have immediate international distribution.
The French and American editions had an introduction by Pierre Mac Orlan, a novelist, journalist, and poet; the German edition had an introduction by Camille Recht, who had written about nineteenth-century photographs. Mac Orlan appreciated Atget’s photographs as evidence of the “social fantastic,” a term vague enough to encompass the surreal quality of the clashing content of modernity—the old and new, solid and ephemeral, animate and inanimate, refined and vulgar—that issued from Atget’s photographs of the French capital. This was the lens through which Atget’s unpretentious career as a journeyman photographer and the evident poetry of his vision were first widely seen. The images selected for the book’s illustrations emphasize the delicate, surprising surrealism to be found in the flux of modern life in an old city while the documentary quality of Atget’s calling bridged old-fashioned technique and the new objectivity of modern photographic vision.
—Maria Morris Hambourg
- Alternate title(s) E. Atget: Lichtbilder
- Language(s) English German French
Berenice Abbott is Man Ray's assistant; Man Ray familiarizes Abbott with the work of Eugène Atget
Berenice Abbott and Julien Levy buy Eugène Atget's archive from André Calmette
The Museum of Modern Art acquires the Eugène Atget archive from Berenice Abbott
Pierre Mac Orlan
Walther Artists Referenced