atget : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

quick question: how do you pronounce Atget's name? Is it Atjay?

thanks echard

-- echard wheeler (, September 19, 2001


Ah jay

-- Raymond Bleesz (, September 19, 2001.

Oui, Raymonde eez right, but be sure to keep the "g" very soft: Ah- zhay.


-- Pepe Le Pew (, September 19, 2001.

I don't understand all the fuss about him. A blind man can make beautiful pictues of Paris, and his technique was second class. What's the bid deal?

-- Wilhelm (, September 19, 2001.

Really Wilhelm! You'll be telling us next that Ansel Adams went to the toilet, that Robert Capa had sweaty armpits, and that Henri Cartier-Bresson has been known to have sex.
C'mon, we're all only human, and if somebody likes the pictures we make, then where's the harm?
It's when dead-head ex pop stars and footballers start being idolised, then you should worry.... Ohh, hang on - start worrying!

-- Pete Andrews (, September 20, 2001.

Monsieur--Excusez- moi, pardon------Atget a hacker? Hardly! I may suggest a reading or study of Beamont Newhall's book, The History of Photography as a starter. We owe a tremendous debt to Monsieur Atget. Had it not been for his love of the medium, we would not only have had those images of the dark alleys of a Paris long departed, (and of course, it was not for the love of money as there was hardly a market for his prints) but also, we would not have a continuance & evolution of the History of Photography, a subject matter which few comprehend or appreciate. Perhaps, if the general public had a more intellectual appreciation for photography's history, the meaning of the word, "photographer" likewise would take on more meaning. I'm awfull tired of hearing the praise, "I'm a photographer" and that person has very little or no comprehension of its History, and the media is at fault here. The Polaroid mentality or "Click--therefor I am a photographer", c'est mauvais, n'est pas! Je penser et c'est mon philosophie.

Respectfully, Raymond A. Bleesz Colorado

-- Raymond A. Bleesz (, September 20, 2001.

Had it not been for Berenice Abbott, would we have heard of him at all?

-- Sean yates (, September 20, 2001.

Pere Atget was the greatest photographer who ever lived. Great artistic vision, not with photography but through it. It is a fundamental misconception of art to say that Paris is beautiful and, therefore, anybody can make a beautiful picture of Paris. Paris the thing is only buildings, people, streets and flora. The Paris of Atget is an idea. It doesn't exist -- and never existed -- outside his images. In this sense, a great place to start to appreciate Atget is A VISION OF PARIS, ed. by I forget whom. Easy to find on and such. Pictures by Atget (repro not bad) with accompanying excerpts from Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST.... Finally, read any of John Szarkowski's seminal essays on the subject of Atget. Most are introductions etc. to his definitve editions of Atget's work. They are some of greatest monographs on photography ever written. -jeff buckels (albuq nm)

-- Jeff Buckels (, September 20, 2001.

I've never seen an Atget print other than in reproduction. Based on that slim evidence I'd say that his prints lack the smooth perfection that so many of us today substitute for artistic vision. One must look past the surface of the print to see the charm and grace of Atget's Paris. Swarkowski has publicly called him the greatest photogrpher of all time. His work is a reminder to us that artistic vision, not technical perfection, is at the core of great photography.

-- Phil Redman (, September 20, 2001.

There you go, Phil. Thank you. -jeff buckels

-- Jeff Buckels (, September 20, 2001.

if it were not for atget, there would not be a body work that documents ALL of old paris ... and the "little professions" (rag-man, monger, baker, tinker-er &c.) of the late 1800s early 20th century. he was more than an ordinary photographer.

we are lucky he took up photography and didn't continue working as an actor.

-- john nanain (, September 20, 2001.

...Unlike Richard Gere...

-- Micah (, September 20, 2001.

This forum is just the best....I must check it out twice a day. I have loved Atget's work ever since my college photo class but never was sure how his name was pronounced. I've hear Cartier-Bresson's name quite a few different ways. Many thanks.


-- echard wheeler (, September 20, 2001.

BTW...while on the subject... Is it pronounced "KARTY-ERR BRESSON" or "KARTY-A BRESSON" ??? -"DAVE RICH-HEART"

-- Dave Richhart (, September 20, 2001.

"Cartyay-Bressohn" (that's a real nasal "ohn," with the "n" almost silent.

-- Pepe (, September 20, 2001.

The amazing thing about Atget is, firstly, the sheer volume of his work. To have created such an enormous body of work, covering not just Paris but also the villages surrounding Paris, and the fading grandeur of the palaces, people, landscape, architecture, details...the range is breathtaking. This, on the one hand, makes him of huge interest to historians (and to us all), for the glimpses he gives us of the nature of Parisian life and culture at the time. On the other hand, the nature of his vision elevates the work to a level beyond the ordinary document. I am not a great writer but this quote of Szarkowski sums it up quite well for me... "Atget brought to his work a quality that one might describe, inadequately, either as an original eye or an original mind....all of Atget's pictures are informed by a precise visual intelligence, by the 'clarté' formed by the highest virtue of the classic French tradition. This quality was achieved not by impeccable technique, but by discovering precisely what one meant to say, and saying neither more nor less" Try to look beyond technique. It is worthless w

-- Stephen Vaughan (, September 21, 2001.

Atget's Paris is about as fake as the Cottage of Marie Antionette. That is, the images are real but the romantic impression is imaginary. Give me Lartigue, Brassi, or Kertesz any day.

-- Wilhelm (, September 21, 2001.

I have a Lartigue, and I'll take one of each of the others, merci.

-- Raymond A. Bleesz (, September 21, 2001.

It makes no difference if Atget's vision is "romantic". The essence of the objection is that the viewer doesn't care for romanticism, and that's a description of the viewer's psychology, not a meaningful criticism of the work. It would be another matter if the work were "sentimental slop" or something of the sort. That is not the case with Atget, whose vision was unaffected and cogent. He's not an H.P. Robinson or a Mortenson. Thinking about their work shows very clearly that Atget was not a "romantic" in some debased sense. -jeff buckels

-- Jeff Buckels (, September 21, 2001.

One might also question the 'true' nature of Lartigue's photography. His view on french life is equally 'fake'. His photographs are, however, just as astonishing. This is precisely because - like Atget's - they reflect a personal vision of the world. This can also be said of Kertesz and Brassai. Brassai particularly so, seeing as many of his his images of the Paris underworld were 'set-ups', and not in any way purely documentary. To dismiss Atget as a 'Romantic' is to totally miss the point. It is great, GREAT work and should be criticised with the respect that such a monumental life's achievement deserves. What do you know anyway!! Yours angrily...

-- Stephen Vaughan (, September 21, 2001.

I have to agree that Atget was the greatest photographer of all time. If you can't see it in his work, get your eyeglasses checked. Second of course is Robert Frank, even if he did use a little tiny toy camera. If you need to fill-in the years between those two, try Walker Evans.

-- Arthur Gottschalk (, September 21, 2001.


I fully concur with your selection but alter the rankings. 1 Eugene Atget, 2 Walker Evans 3 Robert Frank - which kinda gets back to a time-line, but that's just personal differences.

Somewhere in the thread a post said that original prints had not been seen. I must be very lucky, a couple of vintage Atget prints were exhibited here in Sydney. What beautiful, subtle and fragile renderings they are. Albumen prints from l-o-o-o-o-o-ng range negs developed for hours in a stand-development process using glycin, I believe.

Each and every one us will depart this mortal coil leaving behind an extensive collection of photographs that depict the world and attitude of the times in which we live. Regrettably, most of that material will never see the light of day for any of a number of reasons and will eventually disappear forever. Atget's work has transcended his personal mortality both through Berenice Abbott's involvement and the merits of his oeuvre. We also have the work of Francis Frith, Edouard Baldus and many others who chronicled their contemporaries and the world that lay before them preserved for our consideration and to be a source of inspiration.

Walker Evans drew heavily on his acquaintance with Atget as Frank drew on Evans — an evolutionary process refined by each photographer in turn to match his vision to the tempo of the times. A function far more noble than perpetuating the vision of a handful of West Coast photographers working 70 years ago through mimickery.

To conclude my thoughts on this amazing thread that has taken on a life of its own from a simple enquiry about the pronunciation of a name I would like to pass on a quote I found in barry Thornton's book 'Edge Of Darkness':

"The photograph is a two dimensional object aspiring to tthe third dimension, but living in the fourth dimension."


-- Walter Glover (, September 21, 2001.

I live in Middletown CT. U.S.A., about 2 hours from N.Y.C. and am fortunate to have Wesleyan University in town, that has a REALLY large Atget library of archived original prints as well as many other "famous" photographers. These are frequently on display for free on campus if anyone is interested. My impression is that the Atget prints hold a unique place in the photographic scheme of things....A man in the right place at the right time...doing the right thing...... A real human being with a camera. These prints stand out and hold their own(no problem) even when exhibited with the Robert Frank,Andre Kertez,and Ansel Adams prints etc. that are often shown with Atget together. There is a look to the old contacts and materials that really create a permanant impression in my mind and perhaps more so than most works today. I dont really care if Atget is considered great or not. Its enough that his prints bring me to another world. A world not to be seen again. A beautiful world. He should be accepted for who he was and the opinions not based on the current intellectual approaches so prevalent today. Maybe a more open approach to life and photography will allow every committed photographer to appreciate the works of other artists/photogs ....even if different from ones definition of greatness... and eliminate the excesses of the critical mind that is oftentimes used to separate one, from another persons creation...Perhaps much too much of that in the world at this critical moment in time. Like it or not....this guy had HEART!!!!WE can all learn from that. Peace, Emile.

-- Emile de Leon (, September 22, 2001.

Before closing this discussion, perhaps we should consider how Atget himself viewed his photographic activity.

Beaumont and Nancy Newhall's brief biographical sketch in Masters of Photography, p. 92, contains some suggestive hints. Apparently abandoning early attempts at painting, Atget decided around 1898 "to be a photographer, a photographer of art; already his ambition was to create a collection of all which, in Paris and its environs, was artistic and picturesque"--i.e. "art" in Atget's case resided not in the photographic image but in its subject. Reportedly, he took pleasure when shown paintings which Utrillo and others had based on his photographs. And the door of his atelier-apartment bore the legend "Documents pour Artistes."

That is to say, Atget it seems did not view himself as an artist but rather as a servant of art--a recorder or provider of subjects or "documents." Much of his work in fact seems to have been devoted to creating a visual archive of old mansions, churches, streets, etc. that were marked for destruction, in response to what would seem to be an antiquarian rather than an esthetic impulse. The fact that the photographing of the Parisian brothels was done on commission leaves open the question whether any artistic purposes animated work that Atget is said to have found "annoying."

This all suggests to me that Atget's work, whatever reactions it may arouse in us after the passage of 75 to 100 years and the emergence of entirely new esthetic possibilities, actually antedates the pictorialist notion that photography may ascend to the level of art by imitating the conventions of painting, not to mention the currently prevailing notion that photography is an art in its own right. Are we therefore anachronistically reading into these admittedly arresting images something Atget himself did not intend for them? Nick.

-- Nick Jones (, September 22, 2001.

This has become an very interesting conversation. I'd like to contribute two modest ideas. (1) What an artist intends may be quite different than the actual influence and charm of that artist's work. The difference is fine in that the original meaning and the historical meaning can both be worth thinking about. (2) Atget is not the greatest photographer because There Is No Greatest Photographer. It is in the range and variety of worthwhile possibilities that the art of photography has its true meaning.

-- Michael Alpert (, September 22, 2001.

I hope some of us are staying with this thread.... The question of intent is very difficult. We are certainly not inclined to be bound by the artist's intent. Yet, who among us hasn't had the experience (many times!) of being put off by an interpretation of a picture that we feel strongly (or even know for a fact) to be far off the artist's intent? A further complication, though, is the question of just what the artist's intent IS. Is it what the artist says it is? Take Atget's well-known and beautiful street portrait of the little boy selling wild flowers or herbs in the morning light (p. 98 of A VISION OF PARIS, if you happen to have it).... It appears Atget would say that this was part of his sub-project of cataloging every kind of street vendor of old Paris that he could. A psychologist might consider the story of Atget's life, together with the pictures, and figure that Atget, in late middle age, was attempting to heal his own inner child, to save himself from his own brutal childhood. John Szarkowski might say the purpose was to dramatize the connection between beauty and the passing away of what we feel to be beautiful (a core idea of romanticism and of Atget's work).... As long as this remains a discussion of intent, however, or the place of intent, the inquiry seems essentially frustrating. An interesting alternative is that proposed by David Hurn and Bill Jay in ON LOOKING AT PHOTOGRPAHS (Lenswork, 2000). They suggest thinking about what a picture is "of" (this is a picture of a little street kid selling flowers) as opposed to what it is "about" (documenting a type of street vending, psychodrama, etc., as above). Hurn and Jay are real firm that we can all agree on what the picture is "of", but no one can be right or wrong concerning what the picture is about, but they do seem to require "about" to be perceptible within the four corners of the picture (no biography of Atget, etc.). There are difficulties here, too, though. What if I'd said, "This is a picture of a POOR little street kid selling flowers"? Can we agree on that? Have we gone over the line into what the picture is about? Where is the line? -jeff buckels (albuquerque nm)

-- jeff buckels (, September 23, 2001.

I think it's fair to say that no one person percieves any one thing exactly the same as any other person. We can get close... if the language/art is the same.... but a true understanding...I doubt it.We are all subjective creatures... all attached to our own personal subjective realities we can really trust is ourselves and our own perceptions and probably only a portion of the time ...that being when we are fortunate enough to be closer to our essense/permanance and more detached from our conditioning/personality. When seeing/feeling a photograph... in contrast to just looking at it.... only the observer and the observed exists....and when the essense is reached ...even that duality ceases to be.

-- Emile de Leon (, September 24, 2001.

I do not disagree with what Jeff and Emile have contributed. I would add that experience is the middle term between subjectivity and the objective world. Human experience is more alike than it is dissimilar. There are some wonderful essays on Cezanne by Maurice Merleau-Ponty that can give us a way to look at both artistic intent and the actual presence of artistic work in the world. Most criticism of photography has been sadly superficial. Even Walter Benjamin had a hard time understanding photography, though his essays are wonderfully thought- provoking. Philosophically-based art criticism and literary criticism offer a better conceptual handle on what photographs can mean. I have found that viewing photography as philosophical expression does not distract from the emotional depth and the intuitive joy that I feel as I am working as a photographer. Nor does it spoil my experience of the work of great photographers, such as Atget. The complexity of interpretation that Jeff articulated is not a problem as far as I am concerned; rather, it is an opportunity to explore the depth of meaning that exists in Atget's life's work.

-- Michael Alpert (, September 24, 2001.

My educational background is in literature, and I surely agree that literary theory and criticism -- and "aesthetics" in general -- is a better handle on some of these issues than much of what we've seen in writing on photography. Photographic writing seems to be influenced most strongly by the worst of the rubbish from contemporary writing about painting and sculpture (see the APERTURE of recent years). A clear exception is John Szarkowski (mentioned here for the third time -- sorry), who has a breadth of understanding, and humanity, comparable to some of the giants of 20th century literary theory. A pretty easily accessible and wonderful example is his introduction to his 70s volume MIRRORS AND WINDOWS (real easy to get on Amazon, Barnes, etc.). Atget's reputation, to return to the subject, grew as Szarkowski's grew, just as William Blake's grew with that of Northrup Frye, the great literary theorist. Atget has been Szarkowski's main subject, Blake Frye's.... -jb

-- Jeff Buckels (, September 24, 2001.

Perhaps something can be added on the matter of intent (not, I think, a futile exercise) and then, in the light of this point, on the matter of "greatness" (which almost certainly is).

In the late 1920s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller began acquiring American folk art (portraits, theorem paintings, cigar store Indians, etc.), objects at that time thought of as possessing only antiquarian or historical importance and value. Today, her 424 pieces form the core of the collection in the AAR Folk Art Center in Williamsburg, Va. Now the interesting part. "Mrs. Rockefeller's interest in folk art was a direct result of her appreciation of contemporary art. A founder and active supporter of the Museum of Modern Art, she knew and patronized many of the artists who exhibited there" (Treasures of American Folk Art, ed. Rumford and Weekley, p. 8). So here, paralleling the case of Atget under discussion, we have a problem concerning intent. Whose intent counts? The artist's? The viewer or collector's? What difference does intent make at all?

Although I am, as a consequence of my LF b/w work, very sympathetic to modernism, I just can't bring myself to view American folk art as though it were modern, esp. because it is precisely the lack of training in "academic" art of the (usually unidentified) artist that accounts for his/her works' "folk" qualities--the very qualities that give the modernist viewer the false impression of modernism. Modernism lay a century or more in the future; and even if that style had been in currency, the folk artist by definition would not have known of its existence or, had he/she known, have appreciated it.

Something like this situation may obtain in the case of Atget. My previous post suggested he viewed himself as a supplier of subjects for artists' use, conscientiously but not (in his own estimation) artfully recording scenes which, probably because in some cases they were soon to cease to exist, might appeal to "true" artists, i.e. painters. Admittedly, this is a caricature, and God knows I'm no authority on Atget, but the Newhalls' biography suggests that there is an element of truth here.

Where esthetics are concerned, it's a free world, and we all make what we want of our visual and other sensory experiences. Jeff certainly makes a good point about how differing approaches yield contrasting interpretations of the same image; that even the artist/photographer may be confused or wrong about his own intent; and that biographical details may be beside the point (New Criticism rearing its menacing head again?). But when we talk (as several posts on this and other threads do) of "greatness" we can't avoid being drawn into questions of place and time, teachers and pupils, museums and shows visited or not visited, other artists known or not known--the stuff that photographic history and criticism I've read so far seems to be made of. Once unpacked and made explicit, "greatness" would I think turn out to have something to do with one's predecessors (say, the artist who brings a movement to its climax) or one's successors (the seminal or influential figure who gives birth to something new), but in either case "greatness" will have a historical context. This is why I'm reluctant to give up the notion that the "great" artist must be conscious of, and intend, what he or she is doing. A photographer's work, or a particular image, could be influential by accident, or when misinterpreted or otherwise misunderstood, but in that case I think we'd have to find another expression to describe the phenomenon.

-- Nick Jones (, September 24, 2001.

From what I know and have experienced in the qualities of certain people/artists that I have come across who are considered great or damn close(in my musical career)...the one quality I have seen and recognised is the almost inhuman intensity of their intent and concentration. The ability to concentrate with extreame intensity over very long periods of time. One time I was hanging out with a very famous jazz guitarist who is also a teacher of the highest sort and I asked him "how do you do it ,is there a secrete?" to which he replyed..."it's unreal man... how much depends upon your TOTALITY as a HUMAN BEING" When someone else asked what techniques have to be used, he replyed "it doesn't HAVE to be just has to be what GROOVES YOU" I think that about says it all.This person was very conscious of their place in the universe and willing to share everything.He gave 200 percent to everything whether it was speaking universal truths or drinking a cup of coffee.To those jazz players out there you might know who this is but I will not say here. Now.. someone like Vincent Van Gogh is another type entirely.A genius who is also a complete mental case.Someone who can create art of the highest order but only when the craziness is relaxed enough to let the soul speak clearly through the art.Someone perhaps not conscious of their genius but a genius nevertheless. I dont think a genius can be accidental at all...too much intent is required....intent being the main quality of the soul along with love. I think most of us get a glimpse of this quality when we somehow are able to create a real work of art that contrasts to what we normally do....either through extreme effort resulting in realisation ....or speed and fluidity resulting in superb culmination....the effortless effort . E.

-- Emile de Leon (, September 25, 2001.

I stumbled across this discussion a bit late (today is the 4th of Oct.), but I'd like to contribute, if I may:

on the pronunciation of "Atget", even the French can't seem to agree (I live in Paris and I've asked many friends) "Aht-zhay" or "Aht-zhett", either is OK, but you definitely (if softly) pronounce the "t" after the first letter. I prefer the first version because it sounds more "French" to me. Call me a snob (and you'll be wrong!).

I haven't yet had a chance to read the whole discussion, but to the friendly provocation of Mr.Wilhelm bmitch ("a blind man can make beautiful pictures of Paris"), I would respond, "yeah, but it takes another blind man to appreciate them".

Furthermore, I would like to commend Raymond Bleesz and Jeff Buckels, among others, for their insightful comments.

Two years ago I started a little association called "l'Espirit d'Atget" in the hopes of promoting large format photography in the streets of Paris, to get around bureaucratic "permits" to photograph monuments and in the parks, and to photographically "save" historic buildings and sights --- much as Atget had done. In Paris, this association has fallen flat on it's face ... for the most part, a French photographer in Paris = Leica or people pictures. But, the association is so named because the spirit of Atget exist in places all over the world, not just Paris. Therefore I have friends in Prague and LA shooting with the preservation goal in mind. Once we have enough photographers shooting in the same "spirit", I'll reve up the association again (legally, it still exists ...Paris workshops a likely project, if enough interest is there).

By the way, many Atget images are in the public domain and therefore prints may be available at moderate cost.Inside news is that many of the plates are deteriorated (emulsions like "jigsaw puzzles" according to a well-placed source), but the French ministry of culture doesn't seem to want to do anything about it ...which I particularly don't understand because I have it that Kodak even offered to contribute material for a conservation project.

Time to step down from my soapbox. I don't claim to be an Atget scholar, just a fan, like you. Would be pleased to stay in contact. Best,

Christopher Nisperos Paris

-- Christopher Nisperos (, October 05, 2001.

Sorry for the intrusion.For having experienced it Christopher's pronounciation sounds very French and correct. Regards

-- Vinz La Touke (, November 12, 2001.

On the significance of Atget's work and the excitement of visiting and rephotographing selected sites he photographed/documented (a hundred years ago in many cases), please see my website:

-- Gerald M. Panter (, December 07, 2001.

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