In this day and age, we've pretty much taken photography for granted as an integral part of everyday life. There is the immediacy of Polaroids and the limitlessness of disposable cameras, which make a picture taken today a distant cousin to the practice of early photography. Occasionally we need reminding of the roots of photographic image-making, the glass plates, hand-coated emulsion, and massive amounts of other accouterments that were needed to make one image. In Atget
, a selection from the lifetime work of legendary French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927), we enter the world of early-20th-century photography, which was beginning to bid farewell to the handcrafted picture.
Atget was poised on the cusp between the techniques and materials of early photography and the moment things began to change and modern photography was born. From a laborious and time-consuming process came a much faster method that changed the nature of photography forever. Seemingly overnight, the photograph went from being a precious object to something on its way to being accessible to all. Atget was among the first generation to photographically capture the world of ordinary citizens. While the subject matter was new, he was nevertheless steeped in the tradition of the old-world photograph. A crooked door knocker is captured with loving attention to detail, an air of preciousness still present. Spindly trees, store windows, public gardens--each picture is delicate and romantic. It makes you wonder if absolutely everything was more beautiful in France. Included in the book are insightful commentaries for each of the 100 tritone photographs and five duotones, plus a great introduction by John Szarkowski, former director of the Department of Photography at the MOMA. --J.P. Cohen
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Eug ne Atget was a commercial photographer who spent 30 years producing more than 8000 pictures of Paris and its surrounding countryside before his death in 1927, when American photographer Berenice Abbott purchased his archives. Though he was unknown during his lifetime, his place in photography continues to grow; at times, he seems to be the Gallic brother of Walker Evans. Was Atget's aim to produce a kind of travel guide to a part of France he revered or to capture the elegance of places, courtyards, and gardens for wealthy clients? We will never know, but both of these books sum up the mystery of his intent and the serenity of his camera eye by describing his work as "enigmatic." Szarkowski, who may be our best navigator through images of lightDhe was director of the department of photography at MoMA from 1962 to 1991Dcarefully gathers 100 photographs, taking us through a sepia-toned era where Atget's silence abounds as he lovingly describes what the photographer captured. The Getty book, part of the museum's "In Focus" series, is less ambitious and might serve as a small but representative introduction to the special legacy of Atget. Useful descriptions accompanying each picture will help students, but the black-and-white reproduction and the two-column text make the images seem colder and the book less inviting than Szarkowski's sepia and margin-to-margin text. Where budgets allow, Szarkowski's approach to Atget is recommended, with the Getty version a second choice.DDavid Bryant, New Canaan Lib., CT
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