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2.1.04

New Books on Atget

I have written about the photographs of Eugène Atget before (Eugène Atget Photographs for Sale, August 21; and Photographs at the Musée d'Orsay, October 16), so it should be no surprise that I am writing about them again. An article (Atget au naturel, December 26) by Brigitte Ollier in Libération made me aware of three new resources on Atget. First, Laure Beaumont-Maillet's Atget Paris is now available in a reprint edition from Hazan. This book features 840 photographs of Paris, made by Atget from 1900 to 1920, arranged according to arrondissement. Although the editor is director of the department of prints and photography at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the photographs in this book also come from other collections. As Mme. Ollier puts it:

Atget supposedly wanted to be an actor but became a photographer, capable of giving life to everything he saw. "Whom he sees will live" could have been the motto of this wanderer who never stopped haunting Paris and the Ile-de-France, recording everything that seemed to him worthy of interest: houses, streets, façades, corridors, stairways, corners, and places in a capital drowning in melancholy. His Paris is less empty than it seems at first sight. Sometimes, he puts himself involuntarily into the frame: in certain images, you can see his reflection in the windows.
One such image that is a sort of self-portrait was taken by Atget in front of an antiquities shop at 21, rue Saint-Honoré: that is Atget with his camera reflected in the central pane of glass. Second, there is a new book by Sylvie Aubenas and Guillaume Le Gall, Arbres inédits d'Atget, from Editions Marval. According to Mme. Ollier, this is
a coffee-table book published in a limited edition of 1,000 numbered copies, which contains a group of photographs, unknown until now, since only a few of these images have ever been shown. These 39 trees belong to a series of 111 images taken in Saint-Cloud (Hauts-de-Seine) between 1909 and 1911. Each was purchased from him at a special BNF price, between 1 and 3 francs, pre-war value. Today, even Bill Gates, Emperor of Technology, would not be able to buy them. They are priceless: pure gold.

"We found these photos in 1995, by chance, in an envelope which had never been opened. The prints were all perfect, with good contrast and in this brown-red tone that is magnificent," recounts Sylvie Aubenas. A silence follows, and this specialist in the 19th century manages to add, as if Atget himself were going to rise up from the bowels of the BNF with his tripod and black darkcloth: "They were written on in pencil in Atget's writing, imagine our emotion . . ." So, trees, but brought to life, probably shot in autumn with their bare branches, or gigantic roots or trunks. For this is what captivates Atget, the tree as document, the wild tree, the naked tree.
Third, if that's not enough Atget for you, then you need Eugène Atget, Paris 1900, a CD-ROM available from the Bibliothèque nationale de France containing more than 4,000 images of his photographs from the library's collection. (You can see a really cool Flash preview of the CD-ROM here.) According to Mme. Ollier, this represents essentially the entire collection of Atget photographs at the BNF:
4,500 originals religiously arranged at the perfect temperature in the department of prints and photography, which contains around 5 million pieces.
If you are like me and want to order this CD-ROM, you have to do so directly from the library. You can also see some images from the BNF department of prints and photography from Gallica.

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