Atget and me

atget-pantheon                              Eugene Atget, Coin de la rue Valette et Panthéon, 1925                   gn-pantheon                               Greg Neville, Coin de la rue Valette et Panthéon, 2016

Atget’s streets, then and now. An exercise to locate some of the places where Eugene Atget had taken his photographs in the early 20th century.

Finding the locations was not hard, they are pretty much unchanged. But the  atmosphere of the 19th century streetscape has changed, it could not withstand the transformation brought on by the car which imposes its 20th century mechanical discord and turns every street into a carpark. 

Atget used a glass plate view camera with perspective-correcting movements, hence the vertical buildings are vertical. Also, he used a very wide angle lens, the normal apparatus of an architectural photographer, and was able to squeeze in the expanse of the street. My lens is a 35mm equivalent and does not take in as much. 

These photos of mine show Atget’s artistry. You can see what he’s made of the subject, compared to what I have not. Granted it’s Paris, but he still had to find the location and its best viewpoint. His photographs are indelible to the memory, they have a unique atmosphere and poignancy; he brings out a character in the street that is not there to the eye. Atget was writing poetry.

At certain moments, this little exercise was a thrill. Standing in that doorway in the Rue de Seine to line up my camera, I realised I was in the exact spot  the great photographer had stood with his camera in 1924. I was occupying the same space as Eugene Atget had done almost a century before.

243430816_be36ba3238_b                                                           Eugene Atget, Rue Domat                                            gn-rue-domat                                                  Greg Neville, Rue Domat, 2016

eugene_atget_coin_rue_de_seine                                               Eugene Atget, Rue de Seine, 1924gn-rue-de-seine                                                          Greg Neville, Rue de Seine, 2016

atget-quaid-anjou-1924                         Eugene Atget, Quai d’Anjou, 1924atget-quai-danjou

gn-quai-danjou                                    Greg Neville, Quai d’Anjou, 2016

Atget then and now


Eugene Atget, Maison Chenier 97, rue de Clery, 1907

Why does the past look so good? Is it just the burgundy bloom of the albumen emulsions, the tones of orthochromatic films, the softness of uncoated lenses, the abstraction of monochrome, the absence of cars, the presence of cobblestones? This lovely Atget, made 106 years ago, seems enchanting and evocative, and describes Paris the way we want it to be – charmant.

The corner building was the home of André Chenier, a poet during the French Revolution – you can see a plaque to him above the first floor window. But why isn’t there a plaque to Atget himself, the greatest photographer of all time?  (I make that claim with the backing of Joel Meyerowitz who named him “our Mozart”)

By contrast, look at this serviceable but uninteresting photograph of the same place, made only a few years ago. Why does the present look so drab?


Palagret, Chenier 97, rue de Clery , 2009