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Eugene Atget remains as a photographer of mystery. Little is really known of his life, motivation or intention of his photography. From what we do know, he held a large range of influences. He was born in Libourne, France, in 1857. He grew up as an orphan, raised for the majority by his uncle. He worked as a sailor in his youth, where he serviced Transatlantic routes.
From there, launched into a long-lasting, but largely unnoticed career in acting. He worked as a stage extra, or a “bit player” as it was known in that time, with few lines, and thus few successes. Through his acting company he met his to-be wife, Valentine Delafosse, whom he would spend his whole life with. The early years of his life was spent in it’s entirety on the stage, or on the seas. He left acting at the age of forty, moving to Paris, France, and moving into the field of photography, where his life’s lasting influence was made.
He entered photography as an older man, and with financial burdens he had to support. He saw his photography as business, photographing interesting scenes to turn around and sell to painters and artists “documents for artists” as he called them, to base their own work off of - a common practice of the time. He did not seek to be progressive in his work, and instead learned the fundamentals well, and practiced them to great extents. Illustrating this, he took 10,000 images of Paris and and it’s people from the mid 1890s until the turn of the century.
Photography by: Eugene Atget
As a non-progressive artist, he did not command a following, or have many fans during his lifetime. He did however get recognized by many well-known painters, from Mantisse, to Man Ray, to Picasso, and became a great source of inspiration for them in his photography. He moved to Montparnasse in 1899, where this small fame allowed him to live out his life with modest income, before his eventual passing in 1927, at the age of 70.
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