I'm a freelance writer living on Sydney's north shore. I like tea, books and pop music. If I can combine these into a single activity I'm a happy man.
Lose yourself in the beauty of a bygone era
The name probably means nothing to most people, but French photographer Eugène Atget founded the art of documentary photography which not only went on to become a respected art form in it's own right, but an increasingly important, if sometimes disturbing, tool in journalism and news gathering.
Now, almost 100 years after his death, over 200 rare and original prints from Atget's archive will be on display for the first time in Australia at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Untitled (Art Gallery NSW)
To modern eyes, his images of 'Old Paris' are beautiful works of art, capturing the spirit and beauty of a long gone era. To Atget though, his photos were purely commercial artefacts – 'documents for artists'. He made a living by photographing landscapes, architectural close-ups, shop windows and street scenes that painters could use as reference material. What this unwittingly did was preserve a part of history that was soon to be swept away. Many of the historic buildings and laneways he photographed in the heart of Paris were demolished soon after, and his photos captured in detail the architectural gems of a city that was in the grip of major redevelopment and modernisation. He photographed narrow lanes and courtyard, magnificent royal palaces, bridges and quays on the Seine, stairwells and architectural details on building facades.
His work is also important from a social history perspective and in capturing the more mundane aspects of life Atget ensured they will live forever informing future generations when they could so easily have been forgotten. His work includes studies of prostitutes, street hawkers, rag collectors as well as the homeless and destitute in the peripheral areas of the city it wasn't the done thing to visit. His photographs of the interior of apartments and shop windows are particularly mesmerising - it is amazing how fascinating and informative a shop window from 100 years ago can be. Would any of us think to document one in 2012? Luckily for us, Atget did.
Prostitute Taking her Shift, La Villette (public domain)
Although his work attracted the interest of Man Ray, Matisse and Picasso in the 1920s and influenced the surrealists, his death in 1927 went unnoticed and unmourned. It was only in 1930 and then again in the mid-1980s that major exhibitions of his portfolio and dissertations on his work brought him the respect and fame his talent deserved. In the 21st century, a crater on the planet Mercury was named the Atget Crater in honour of this most underrated of artists.
Rarely permitted to travel outside their home at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris and the George Eastman House in the USA, the Art Gallery of NSW is the only place in Australia this exhibition will be shown. This may be your only chance to experience the beauty of Old Paris through the eyes of Eugene Atget – it is an opportunity you shouldn't miss.
Eugène Atget: Old Paris is showing in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery at the Art Gallery of NSW until 4 November 2012. Tickets are $10 adults, $8 concession and $7 members.
The Art Gallery of NSW is situated on Art Gallery Road in The Domain, city centre. It is open daily from 10am-5pm. The nearest train stations are Martin Place and St James which are both approximately a 10 minute walk away. Bus number 441 from York Street near the QVB stops outside the gallery. Alternatively, the Sydney Explorer tourist bus stops near by (stop number 12). There is on street meter parking on Art Gallery Road and several pay car parking stations near by.
For more information, visit the Art Gallery of NSW online.