Atget Hardcover – February 2, 2004
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From Library Journal
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Item Weight : 3.66 pounds
- Hardcover : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0870700944
- ISBN-13 : 978-0870700941
- Product Dimensions : 10.25 x 1 x 12.25 inches
- Publisher : The Museum of Modern Art, New York; First Edition (February 2, 2004)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #370,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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I got out of my chair at lunchtime and took a walk down to the restaurant at the edge of my neighborhood. In those few blocks I had the most productive time with my camera I've had in weeks.
AFAIK Szarkowski was a singular talent in photography criticism. I get the impression that he put all of his energy into doing his job and none into crafting his own image. His love for the art is transparent. His insights are illuminating. His prose is straight and true - and still wonderfully entertaining. His is the kind of intellect... he's the kind who, if you met him at a party you would be dazzled by his insights and still unintimidated - you get the feeling he would be a good conversationalist at an ivy league school or at a truck stop.
I was moved to wistfulness when I finished my first lap of this book just now. Partly it's because of the sweet, sad poetry of Atget's photography. Also Szarkowski illuminated Atget's personal history - his loss of loved ones and his senescence. As the stack of remaining pages in the book grew thinner, the quality of the pictures became more evanescent and the tone of the text signaled conclusion... Then there's the mystery of Atget's life - the few reliable, extant details form the most evocative, photographic biography of the artist haha! IDK - I think the bittersweet poignancy I feel upon first finishing this book is similar to finishing a great, sprawling novel - as if that world vanishes at the completion of the book. Intellectually that makes no sense... IDK while I was reading it felt like Atget was alive, hauling his camera rig around Paris in the early hours of the day.
And obviously Szarkowski was still alive when he wrote this book. Right now is one of those times I really want to thank a person who touched my life so deeply, but he is already gone. Two people, actually.
F*** it - there is no point in me writing about this book, except to encourage you to experience it. It is a treasure.
Atget showed us the axioms of photography and axioms cannot be explained by analysis. The test of an Atget, Bach, or Cezanne, is that it is impossible to find the source of their revelation and impossible not to find their influence in future artists.
"Good pictures are not explained by words...With exceptional good luck criticism might with words construct meanings that are different from but consonant with the meanings of pictures. Such constructs of words might possibly guide us toward the neighborhoods where pictorial meanings live.", he says in this book. (Please, if you are an art historian or critic, take this pledge!)
Thus Szarkowski tours the photographs he has selected and writes a thought or two somehow connected to each one - sometimes a revelation, often a question. Each page of writing stands alone and will engage the reader in a conversation with the author and the photographer. Many times Szarkowski puts us somewhere behind the camera a hundred years ago, or on a bridge in Paris 600 years ago. He really brings Atget to life by putting us in his time and place.
There are plenty of revealing facts stashed throughout the writing. Szarkowski talks of the influence of Atget on Weston, Walker Evans, Winogrand, and others and leaves us to recognize the Atget in Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, and ourselves. He mentions just the relevant technical and biographical details.
He shows examples of how Atget handled Time,the essence of photography. As he wrote in "Photography Until Now" about Atget, "Perhaps from the practice of looking attentively and repeatedly at the same thing from different vantage points and in different lights he came to see that ...one tree, or one reflecting pool, was never twice the same, and would therefore last as a subject as long as one's concentrated attention. With this realization he became, surely not intentionally, a modern artist."
The reflecting pools and trees are in this book along with the more familiar Parisian architecture. Different views of the same subjects are also in other books such as Berenice Abbott's "The World Of Atget". Szarkowski thus, enriches the literature on Atget, giving meaning to many of the published mindless catalogs of his photographs.
Szarkowski shows another reason Atget is a modern artist. His work is meticulously constructed in the same cultural elements as the works of his more famous contemporary French painters and sculptures. There are no accidents and no mistakes in his work. The result is a richness that reveals something new every time we look at it.
The same is true of this book by Szarkowsi. I've read it three times. It is a masterpiece, "...seductively and deceptively simple, wholly poised, reticent, dense with experience, mysterious and true." To use the words Szarkowski wrote of Atget in Looking At Photographs.