About the Photographer
Untitled is a striking example generally of Eugène Atget's documentary style and particularly his masterful use of perspective in composing a vista. The repetition of shirts and pants stacked for sale in this image engage the eye with their sharp detail and high contrast. They are in turn framed and set off by the middle tones and looser repetition of lines and curves found in the geometry of the background architecture and the pattern of the paving stones. Also characteristic in this street scene is Atget's choice to show the evidence and artifacts of people while nonetheless excluding them from the frame. Old-fashioned in technique compared to his contemporaries, Atget worked with an18×24-centimeter view camera and made albumen prints. The right edge of this photograph bares evidence of its technical production: a holding clip has left its small black shadow in the upper half and the dark pattern in the lower corner evidences the cracks of the Lumière plate. Molly Nesbit identifies the print as "Coin du Marchés des Carmes Place Maubert" (negative 234) from Atget's Métiers, boutiques et talges de Paris album.
Atget was born February 12, 1857 in Libourne, France. A sailor until 1879, an actor until 1897, and then briefly a painter before taking up photography in 1898, he brought a utilitarian's sensibilities to his documentation of vieux Paris (Old Paris). Atget described himself as an archivist, lecturer, and author/publisher, while the sign on his door labeled his photographs merely as "Documents for artists." Though this very private man shirked the title of artist (famously asking that his name not accompany his photograph "L'Eclipse—Avril 1912" when published in La Revolution Surrealist), he came to be celebrated by the surrealists, heralded as an important precursor to the New Objectivity, and remembered for a strong influence on the work of Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, and many others. Man Ray claims to have discovered him (around 1926), but most of the world came to know Atget posthumously through Bernice Abbott's tireless promotion of his work and his place as both ancestor and forerunner to modern photography. Atget was still largely unknown when he died in Paris on August 4, 1927, but within a decade was all but cannonized. Today his work numbers in most major institutional collections, such as those of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.