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Rise of the Modern City

Discover the ways in which artists, photographers, and architects changed the landscape of modern cities.

Chemiserie, Boulevard de Strasbourg

Eugène Atget
(French, 1857–1927)

1927. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 8 3/4 x 6 3/4" (22.2 x 17.1 cm)

Eugène Atget spent 30 years systematically documenting the city of Paris in the early 20th century, eventually creating over 5,000 negatives and 10,000 printed photographs. Atget’s fascination with the city led him to create series of shop windows, street scenes, parks, buildings, monuments, and people. In Chemiserie, Boulevard de Strasbourg, Atget captures the facade of a shirt shop, whose symmetrical window display “documents” Parisian fashion. The composition relies on both Atget’s framing and the perfection of the window display.

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A term describing a wide variety of techniques used to produce multiple copies of an original design. Also, the resulting text or image made by applying inked characters, plates, blocks, or stamps to a support such as paper or fabric.

A previously exposed and developed photographic film or plate showing an image that, in black-and-white photography, has a reversal of tones (for example, white eyes appear black). In color photography, the image is in complementary colors to the subject (for example, a blue sky appears yellow). The transfer of a negative image to another surface results in a positive image.

The method by which information is included or excluded from a photograph, film, or video. A photographer or filmmaker frames an image when he or she points a camera at a subject.

Any public-facing side of a building, often featuring decorative finishes.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

Decorative style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that flourished principally in Europe and the U.S. Although it influenced painting and sculpture, its chief manifestations were in architecture and the decorative and graphic arts. It is characterized by sinuous, asymmetrical lines based on organic forms.

After Atget
After his death in 1927, a number of artists and journalists commented on the artistic and decidedly modern way that Atget had captured the city of Paris. An article that ran in New York newspapers referred to Atget as “the first photographer to formulate the theory that the camera was an artistic instrument rather than a mere machine.”

Questions & Activities

  1. Keep Looking

    Explore a vast array of Atget photographs on the George Eastman House Flickr page.

    Can you find examples of Art Nouveau design or architecture in his work?
    Can you find more examples of shop windows?

  2. Debate Topic: Eugène Atget

    Not much is known about Atget, and there is still debate surrounding the intent of his photographs. Some consider Atget a documentary photographer who took pictures that were only later considered modern and interesting. Others think that he was an artist who had discovered how to use a camera in an inventive and imaginative way.

    Of the two statements shown below, which do you most agree with?

    Statement 1: Atget was a documentary photographer who was not interested in creating a photograph that would be considered a “work of art.”

    Statement 2: Atget was an artist who was using photography to capture many of the same ideas about modernism.

    After choosing, write a defense of your choice in a one-page essay.