Information on Eugene Atget is scarce. He was born to working class parents February 12, 1857. His father a carriage maker died when Eugene was just five, and his mother shortly after. He was raised by his grandparents in Bordeaux.
After efforts in acting and painting, Atget pursued a career in photography. Most likely self-taught, he scraped a living taking pictures for artists, architects, and stage designers.
As a child growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, I had this feeling that everything was changing, being modernized. I could tell the older grocery stores from the newer ones, the old-fashioned ice cream shop with the black and white tile floor with the soda fountain counter from the modern Baskin Robbins, friends that had color tv’s instead of the black and white one that I grew up with, transistor radios being replaced by the newest boom boxes. This is something I think every generation senses, intuits, and experiences.
Well, Eugene Atget felt this in a changing Paris. Times were changing, Paris was being modernized and he set out to document it with the relatively new medium of photography. Pioneering the photographic genres of street photography, environmental photography, urban photography, architectural photography, portrait photography, and combining them into one genre the became documentary photography. As it became his sole pursuit in life to document France before it succumbed to the modernization of the civilized world.
He became obsessed with making what he modestly called “documents” of the city and its environs, and compiling a visual compendium of the architecture, landscape, and artifacts that distinguish French culture and its history. Except for a brief attempt to capture life in the streets early in his career, Atget rarely photographed people, preferring the streets themselves as well as the gardens, courtyards, and other areas that constituted the cultural stage.
Not being recognized in his own life, he has come to be recognized as one of the greatest photographers at the turn of the 19th century. He did not see his photography as art.