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“Eugène Atget: ‘Documents pour artistes,’” an exhibition of photographs by Atget that opened this week at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, takes its name from the sign outside Atget’s studio door. The sign underscored his humble intention to make “documents” that could be fodder for the creative output of other artists. Atget’s work to document the old Paris that was disappearing as it yielded to modernization began in the late 1880s and continued into the 1920s. Far from being a mere record-maker, Atget is remembered as a forerunner of modern art and photography, and was particularly admired by the surrealists. Man Ray lived down the street from Atget, but it was Bernice Abbott, an American photographer, who bought the contents of his studio when he died and brought the contents to MoMA. The current exhibition is the first extensive presentation of Atget’s oeuvre in 25 years and is accompanied by the rerelease of the book “Atget” by John Szarkowski. On view through April 9.

Marchand de paniers en fil de fer, 1899-1900. Albumen silver print. Eugène Atget, MoMA

Fête du Trône, 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA

Avenue des Gobelins, 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA

Parc de Sceaux, June 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA

Romanichels, groupe, 1912. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA

Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève, June 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA

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Outside his studio in 19th-century Paris hung a sign that declared “documents pour artistes”—documents for artists—a statement that captured the modest intent of Eugène Atget. His legacy, the result of a career that spanned more than 30 years and nearly 8,500 photographs, is one of relentless curiosity, devout investigation and masterful craftsmanship. Drawing from its expansive collection of Atget’s work, the Museum of Modern Art in New York will present a selection of more than 100 images from Feb. 3 through April 9, as an exhibition titled with inspiration from the artist himself: Documents Pour Artistes.

The exhibition, which is divided into six sections, examines the various subjects the artist approached during his life. Atget is primarily known for his images of the streets of Paris, romantic landscapes and images of storefronts (which inspired Surrealists such as Man Ray and Tristan Tsara, although Atget denied any ties to the movement)—but, in this show, MoMA includes a refreshing display of his rare photographs of people, which are equal in their formal rigor and topographical, objective approach.

Atget’s approach is paradoxically both intimate and anonymous; despite having photographed seemingly every inch of the streets of Paris, from whole buildings to window displays, Atget never photographed the Eiffel Tower. His sense of dedication to detail, found in his street photographs, extends into his images from the abandoned Parc de Sceaux, from March and June of 1925. During this time, Atget took vast images of the serene landscapes, all while taking dutiful notes of times of day of the photographs, revealing his highly proximate relationship with documentation.

Drawing inspiration from Atget’s vision of objectivity for his photographs, it is perhaps best for viewers to develop a more personal relationship with his work, undistracted by the perceptions of the outside world. The scenes captured in Atget’s images cannot be adequately illustrated with words—luckily for us, he took pictures instead.

Documents Pour Artistes is on display from Feb. 3 through April 9 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

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Zoniers, Porte de Choisy, 1913By Stephen Longmire, Afterimage, May 2001It has been 20 years, amazingly enough, since New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) launched its landmark cycle of exhibitions of the work of French photographer Eugene Atget (1857-1927), who spent his last 30 years documenting the architectural record of Paris and its surroundings at the beginning of the last century.

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