eugene atget

Six photos of Paris by Atget, from two books: Paris – Eugene Atget published by Taschen and Atget by John Szarkowski, published by MoMA. The latter book includes 100 plates with text by Szarkowski, much of which I found overwritten to the point of being intrusive. A typical example is his last paragraph accompanying the first photograph in the gallery below; it adds a layer of speculation that is not only indulgent, it distracts from the experience of viewing the photo.

Across the street from the Gobelins factory is a department store. Department stores changed the traditional ways of commerce and social interchange, and were therefore perhaps as unsettling and offensive to Atget–on the level of cultural and political principle–as shopping malls have been in our time to photographers such as Robert Adams. Nevertheless, it is wrong and self-defeating to photograph badly the subjects of which one disapproves. In fact, for a photographer as serious as Atget, it might be necessary to photograph a subject as well as he can before he knows what he thinks of it.

While Szarkowski does provide valuable context to many of the photographs, he too often, in passages like the above, tries to dazzle us with his references and asides, but ends up competing with Atget on the page. I much preferred the essay ‘Archive of Visions – Inventory of Things’ by Andreas Krase in the Taschen book.

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