Paris: Through Eugene Atget's Lens

On a sunny morning in May we set out to discover the Paris of Eugene Atget (1857-1927) at the old Biblotheque Nationale, just behind the Palais Royale.

Atget, a seaman and actor turned photographer, is known for his Paris street scenes, of tradesmen and merchants, of tipped pushcarts and bulging barrels, of haberdashers and fishmongers. Atget took more than 10,000 photos of Paris life, not for art but for income.

He left behind a legacy for today's Paris lovers, who yearn to see their city as it once was.

Old Paris leaps from these photographs of everyday life. Look at one - any one - long enough and you can feel and smell and hear the color and the cacophony of street life. Gaze into one of his misty photos old overgrown parks and you can feel the damp on your face and hear the cries of birds of prey. You can sense the bosky aroma of untended woods. You are there.

I'd heard about the exhibit, but it was not until we saw a photo of one of our favorite little Left Bank corners (just outside the ancient church of St. Julien le Pauvre) at Musée d'Orsay that we decided to go to the show. I thought my husband, a trained photographer and filmmaker, would enjoy it, and he did.

The photo at the top is one of Atget's, looking west Rue des Ursins on Ile de la Cité to the north of Notre Dame. One of my photos of the same area is just above: I am looking east.

I consider it an honor to walk - even for a short time - in Atget's footsteps with my camera.


Judy said…
Wow, what a beautiful trip you just took us on. Magnificient!!! We have John Fielder who does long ago and current pictures and it is really cool to see the places I've visited and how they have changed. He also does a calendar every year of beautiful places in CO to visit which I send to some distant relatives in Scherwiller every year. Thanks for a lovely post as usual.
Mimi said…
Judy, there are books out there on Atget, which - if you love Paris - you will adore.

I have soft spot in my heart for a Madison (Wis.) Then and Now book I got for Christmas 3-4 years ago.
Fiona said…
Its wonderful to be able to walk back into history on these old streets. They hold so much energy from the past, they are almost sacred.

I love looking at old photographs and comparing them to 'now'.

Eugene Atget left a wonderful legacy behind him.
Mimi said…
Atget may not have been a food photographer, but his images give us a true taste of the Paris of a century ago, Fiona.
His photos have magic.
Um . . . your writing has magic.
Love your shorts that take me back to Paris.
These old photos or books of the past Paris are so fascinating to find what's unchanged there.
cityfarmer said…
INDEED....well said.

great photos
Mimi said…
Thanks so much, Tanna and CF.

It's eye candy, in a way, because Atget captured something special - it's a treat to look at his work.
Toni said…
Your blog always fills me with a sense of warmth. And place. And you have so many photos of one of my favorite cities on earth, that I just smile. Other than food, photography is my passion, and these photos you included are lovely. Paris may have changed in some ways, but it somehow manages to retain it's essence. Thanks for this lovely trip!
Mimi said…
Thank you, Toni. You are the best. I needed that today.

Chris Late said…

I second that emotion. I get such a warm and cozy feeling -- with a little Francophile frisson
when I page through your writing.

I hope you saw there's a book, PARIS CHANGING, which re-shoots some famous of Atget's famous Paris photographs, and compares them.


Terry B said…
I love Atget's photos! This lovely post reminds me of a misadventure Marion and I had. Falling in love with the Robert DeNiro movie Ronin, we carefully studied the opening sequence, playing it again and again with a Paris map spread out before us, trying to figure out the exact location of the bar on Montmartre where the characters first meet. When we went to Paris, we scoured that section of Montmartre and never found it. As DeNiro's character says in the film, "The map is not the territory." Turns out our map was flawed. Marion and her sister found it on a later visit. It turned out to not be much of anything. Oh, well.

By the way, your photo is a beauty too, Mimi.
Mimi said…
Thanks, CL, and I bought that book a few weeks back, which I have along with 2-3 others that show Paris now and then. Fascinating, but also bittersweet, too. Old Paris is gone forever.

TerryB, I love that movie, and love to pick out places I recognize. Do I detect parts of the 13th in Ronin?
Christine said…
You've done it again Mimi - taken me right back to Paris. You can't imagine how happy that makes me.
We picked up an Atget book while in Paris and brought it home with us. My husband, being a building designer, loves it.
Thank you for the continuing memories!
Mimi said…
There was a fat Atget book I coveted, but thought it was too heavy to carry around that day, Christine.

Often the people in Atget's photos remind me of the family photos from Canada that my Memere had in her photo basket.
Anonymous said…
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