Eugène Atget, Port Dauphine, 1913 (2009.79.5)
An astute documenter of Parisian urbanity, Eugène Atget also photographed the city’s fortifications in 1913. Under Louis XIV, fortress walls were destroyed in 1670 but fears of German invasion led to defense commissions in the 1830s. The Thiers wall was the last to be built, between 1841 and 1844. Encircling today’s boulevards des Maréchaux, it spanned 19,280 acres. Port Dauphine was one of the seventeen gates along the Thiers Wall.
This photograph is exemplary of two visual strategies Atgét consistently employed. First, it is not heroic composition, but the unprivileged gaze of a passerby. Port Dauphine is a reverse framing of his Notre-Dame de Paris, 1922. In both photographs, a man-made symbol of unification is set back from a bifurcating natural element: trees. Secondly, by prioritizing landscape over a defense wall, Atgét de-emphasizes the presence and importance of the military. Such aesthetic decisions reveal a socially conscious, highly personal sense of agency.
For more information on the fortifications of Paris, see Jean-Denis Lepage, The Fortifications of Paris: An Illustrated History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2006.
–Patricia Silva ICP-Bard, 2013