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Indepth Arts News:

"The Man in the Street: Eugene Atget in Paris"
2000-06-20 until 2000-10-08
J. Paul Getty Center
LOS ANGELES, CA, USA

The Man in the Street: Eugene Atget in Paris, is an enthralling and highly personal visual guide to Paris created by the now-celebrated photographer Eugène Atget (1856-1927). Running from June 20 through October 8, 2000 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, this fascinating exhibition highlights selected photographs that Atget produced from about 1897 until 1927-the results of his obsessive pursuit of the essential appearance of the city of Paris. His work influenced younger photographers including Man Ray, Walker Evans, and Berenice Abbott, whose fascination with city scenes would carry forward the spirit of Atget's work.

Drawn entirely from the Getty Museum collection, the exhibition includes more than 80 of Atget's images captured during his self-devised and eccentric photographic campaign, which documented aspects of Paris and the daily life of its ordinary citizens that have since changed or disappeared. From sidewalk displays, shop windows, staircases, sculptures, and gardens to ragpickers and children at play in parks, Atget systematically collected a Paris little seen by tourists and seldom frequented by the affluent. To complement the exhibition, the Getty is publishing a new book about Atget in its In Focus photography series.

Orphaned early and independent by necessity, Atget became a photographer after brief stints as a seaman and an actor. At first, the documents for artists that Atget made were studies of plants, animals, and landscapes, intended to be used by painters, illustrators, architects, and decorators. He soon began a series of solitary pilgrimages through the streets of Paris, toting a heavy, tripod-mounted camera and a supply of old-fashioned glass-plate negatives, consistently making photographs from a pedestrian's viewpoint. Paris became his principal and perennial subject.

Eugène Atget gradually accumulated nearly 8,500 negatives that recorded the vanishing remnants of the city's past as preserved in its architecture, neighborhood streets, storefront displays, shop signs, popular pastimes, and common outdoor occupations. His most characteristic works in this pictorial encyclopedia of Paris are moody, sometimes melancholy studies that capture the true essence of the city-not postcard panoramas dominated by tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower. The subtle beauty of Atget's work lies in his uncanny ability to encapsulate and transform the mundane visual data of urban daily life and its setting, to make the fleeting permanent and the prosaic, poetic, says Gordon Baldwin, an associate curator in the department of photographs at the Getty Museum.

IMAGE:
Eugène Atget,
Staircase, Monmartre 1924,
Albumen print.


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