* 1856 Libourne
† 1927 Paris
Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget counts among the biggest names of early photography in France.
Born in Libourne near Bordeaux in 1857, the artist found his way to photography through the backdoor. At first he had tried out many other professions, he was a sailor, an actor in a traveling theater, a painter. However, he earned first success only as a photographer, but he never lived to see this great triumph.
In 1898 Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget acquired a simple ground glass camera with which he made shots of old Paris. These photographs did not merely serve as collectibles and souvenirs, but as models for painters such as Georges Braque, André Derain, Moise Kisling, Maurice Utrillo and Maurice de Vlaminck. Even the Historical Library in Paris bought some photographs.
However, during the artist's lifetime works by Jean -Eugène-Auguste Atget were known only to insiders. It was the photographer Berenice Abbott who recognized his exceptional qualities when she met Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget upon a visit to Man Ray in 1925. After the death of Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget on 4 August, 1927 she acquired some 2000 sheets out of his estate and acquainted a broader audience with the photographer's oeuvre.
The works by Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget are characterized by an almost documentary approach to the streets and squares of the "Vieux Paris" (old Paris), with a focus on its decay and not on its representational values. The photographs by Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget are clearly different from the era's predominant taste in photography, which preferred a picturesque and blurring softness, by their extreme precision and sharpness. Some series of motifs, such as the "Showcase" almost have a surreal expression and subtle profundity.
It is not least for this feature that photographs by Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget earned him great fame posthumously. Now they were recognized as a precursor of surrealism and even of modern photography in general.
Today, Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget's photographic plate are in possession of, for example, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.