( b. 12 February 1857; d. 4 August 1927 )
Studied acting and played with a theatre group in the suburbs of Paris, but had to abandon this in 1887 because of a recurrent throat infection. The following year he began to take photographs. Though he earned his living by taking photographs, he never described himself as a photographer, preferring “author-producer.” He produced a documentary of the architecture and people of Paris, many of his pictures having been taken in areas shortly before their disappearance to modernization.
During the thirty years he worked, developed an extensive filing system for his many negatives and prints, and his legacy amounts to several thousand images.
His street photographs were not very different from that of his contemporary Paul Martin, but he also revealed a remarkable capacity for “seeing” pictures. Whereas lesser mortals might take very similar photographs of well-known landmarks, one could picture Atget’s attention being drawn by what they would regard as mundane situations. He would photograph the same subject from different viewpoints and at different times, demonstrating that two pictures of one subject can have very different meanings and appeal.
Eugene Atget was a largely unknown character round which a number of myths have emerged: he is pictured as a tramp-like character wandering around with his camera, or a naive photographer who did not understand how much his work would command. He was certainly a very much underrated photographer, unknown during his lifetime, dying in total obscurity, but now acknowledged as one of the most outstanding of artists.
If he was not a surrealist himself, he certainly influenced this movement.