Eugène Atget's Trees: Newly Discovered Photographs from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

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9781891024672: Eugène Atget's Trees: Newly Discovered Photographs from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
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When EugAne Atget was still alive, photographs and photographers were considered in a different light than they are today. At that time, no one would have dreamed of considering Atget an artist; he himself seems to have concurred, maintaining that the pictures he sold--at a price of 1 to 3 francs--were no more than documents. Libraries and museums constituted some of his most important clients; between 1900 and 1927, the Department of Prints and Photography of the BibliothAque Nationale de France acquired thousands of his views of "old Paris." The manner of selecting these works remains obscure, but in 1995, after a laborious round of locating and classifying the historical photographs held by the department, a group of 39 hitherto unknown images by Atget were discovered. These studies of trees in the park at Saint-Cloud are essentially portraits of trees, some full-length, some details of roots or trunks--each a uniquely stark, high contrast abstraction of a genteel forest through the seasons. Found in their original envelope in the libraries archives, they had remained essentially untouched since they being purchased in July 1923. The envelope originally contained 111 photographs, bought for the sum total of 333 francs; the balance of the images featured more typical views of balustrades, statues, and terraces, and were published in a documentary volume on the park. The 39 images reproduced here for the first time were considered too abstract to stand as proper documentation. Without a framework for understanding such an image an artwork, they almost disappeared.

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About the Author:

EugEne Atget was born near Bordeaux, in France, in 1857, and was raised by an uncle from an early age after the deaths of his parents. He became a cabin boy and sailor, and traveled widely until 1879, when he entered the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Paris. He studied there for two years and worked as a minor actor for the next few years, during which period he devloped a relationship with the actress Valentine Delafosse, who later became his photographic assistant, and with whom he lived for the rest of his life. Unsuccessful as an actor and later as a painter, he finally picked up photography in 1898, at age 40. Over the next 30 years, using obsolete equipment (an 18 x 24 cm bellows camera, rectilinear lenses, a wooden tripod, and a few plate holders), he made over 10,000 photographs of the daily appearance of a rapidly changing Paris. Most of these were sold as documents to libraries and museums, as well as to artists, stage designers, and interior decorators. Perhaps it was not until 1926, when Man Ray published a few of Atget's photographs in the magazine La rEvolutions surrEaliste, that his work began to be appreciated as art. Atget died one year later, but the appreciation of his work has only grown exponentially since.

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