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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment

Porte d'Asnières, Cité Valmy: ragpickers (2)

Eugène Atget

Porte d'Asnières, Cité Valmy: ragpickers - Eugène Atget

black & white silver print
Paris, Musée Carnavalet
© Eugène Atget / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

View this work in the exhibition Les Chiffonniers

The artist

Eugène Atget was born in 1857 on the outskirts of Bordeaux to a family of coachbuilders. He was orphaned at the age of five and was raised by his grandparents. He wanted to work in the theatre and ended up entering the Conservatoire in 1879. However, his acting career did not take off, and a throat illness forced him to give up the stage. He then devoted himself to painting, without much success, and then to photography, supplying documentary sources to painters.

Having set up his own business in 1890, he became absorbed in old Paris and its environs, in the small trades and in shop fronts. Various organizations and institutions began to take an interest in his work and commissioned photographs of architecture and gardens. From the First World War onwards, he devoted himself mainly to classifying his work, which consisted of over 8,000 photographs. In his latter years, in the 1920s, he met Man Ray who bought photos from him and published them in La Révolution Surréaliste. He then met Berenice Abbott who went on to devote a large part of her life to championing his work.

A very fine exhibition devoted to Atget is available online on the Web site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.