Atget’s Paris, 100 Years Later

PARIS — For a lot of the final two months, Paris has been empty — its retailers and cafes shuttered, its streets abandoned, its tens of millions of vacationers all of a sudden evaporated.

Freed of individuals, the city panorama has evoked an older Paris. In explicit, it has known as up the singular Paris of Eugène Atget, an early 20th-century father of contemporary images in his unsentimental give attention to element.

In 1000’s of images, Atget shot an empty metropolis, getting up early every morning and lugging his primitive gear all through the streets. His pictures diminished Paris to its architectural essence.

Mauricio Lima has adopted in Atget’s footsteps, capturing pictures of the identical scenes his well-known predecessor captured. But this time these streets are abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Lima’s recreations supply new perception into Atget’s work — and into the that means of a metropolis distinctive in its magnificence but in addition in its coldness.

The critic and thinker Walter Benjamin famously invoked crime scenes in discussing Atget’s images. He was pointing to their vacancy, their medical consideration to particulars of the city panorama, their absolute rejection of the sentimental and the grandiose.

As Benjamin noticed, Atget established a useful “distance between man and his environment.” And Mr. Lima’s haunting up to date recreations affirm the long-dead photographer’s disquieting perception — Paris doesn’t care about your presence. It is detached, and will definitely go on with out you.

You can really feel pleasure at standing on a Paris avenue, however the feeling shouldn’t be reciprocated.

Atget, who was born in 1857, initially tried unsuccessfully at performing and portray. In 1890, he arrange store as a photographer, so as — as an indication over his door stated — to supply “Documents for Artists.” He knew that painters wanted pictures as fashions for his or her work, and he set about furnishing them.

For practically three a long time, he trudged by means of town, bearing his heavy tripod and documenting a Paris of slender streets and grime-covered low buildings that was already disappearing.

In 1920, Atget wrote: “I can say that I possess all of Old Paris.”

The world was largely detached to Atget’s work till, a number of years earlier than his dying in 1927, he met a younger American photographer, Berenice Abbott, who was working as an assistant to the artist Man Ray. She photographed him, wrote about him, acquired lots of his prints and promoted him relentlessly for 50 years.

Today, Atget is acknowledged as a significant determine within the historical past of images.

The empty Paris of his prints looms out of the half-light of what looks like perpetual fog. His buildings are unbiased of individuals. They don’t even want them. Paris, the message appears to be, continues. It doesn’t care in regards to the particular person presence. The metropolis shouldn’t be sentimental about humankind.

True, traces of humanity are ever-present in his photos — torn promoting posters, artisanal store indicators, bins of greens, rows of shoes. But these are solely reminders that town would possibly as soon as have been inhabited. And there are few individuals within the pictures to substantiate this.

In Atget’s Paris, “the city is evacuated, like an apartment that hasn’t yet found its new tenant,” Benjamin wrote.

Compare that with the pictures from right this moment. The occasional masked figures are incidental to the panorama. That they put on masks, hiding a part of their faces, is an additional denial of their humanity.

The city panorama asserts its presence, unbiased of individuals. In the present-day of the unusual angle on the nook of the Rue de Seine, within the now-fashionable sixth arrondissement — considered one of Atget’s most well-known pictures — the constructing appears to jut insolently out of the sky, like a form of sculpture.

The lonely bicycle owner on the Rue de l’Hotel de Ville emphasizes the road’s vacancy, as does the small canine in entrance of 14 Rue Servandoni. The brighter mild of the present photos emphasizes the chilly, laborious angles of the stone on the Rue de la Bucherie. Paris appears extra detached than ever.

It can also be evident within the present-day images that Paris has been mightily cleaned up. The amassed grime and soot of centuries — nonetheless current within the 1960s — has been washed away.

The blackened facades, so distinguished in images of Paris in the course of the German occupation in World War II, are actually white. The promoting posters that when plastered most of the facades are lengthy gone. Walls have been smoothed over, resurfaced, repainted.

Paris is not a metropolis of working individuals. The carpenters, cobblers, chimney-sweeps, vegetable-ladies and porters whose presence is evoked, if not at all times represented, in Atget’s photos are lengthy since gone.

The Rue de Seine, with its rooftop gardens and stylish storefronts, is now one of many pricier bits of town. It definitely doesn’t appear to be that in Atget’s print. But in right this moment’s photos, Paris has been prettified and gentrified.

The “picturesque” — which Atget shunned, as Benjamin factors out — is harder to keep away from. Difficult however, within the time of the coronavirus, maybe not unimaginable.

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