Revisiting Atget’s Gardens

Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Saint-Cloud, 1922-27 (printed 1922-27) (2009.79.11)

Eugène Atget (1857-1927), [The park at Saint-Cloud], 1905-15 (Printed 1919-27) (2008.112.15)

Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Versailles – Vase par Ballin, 1902 (2012.100.9)

Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Versailles, Fontaine de Diane (détail), 1901 (Printed 1901-27) (2008.112.36)

Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Versailles, Le Remouleur par Foggini (Parterre du Nord), 1901 (Printed 1901-27) (2008.112.37)

In the fall of 1979 ICP celebrated its Fifth Anniversary “with exhibitions of the work of two giants of 20th century photography: Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Both men represent the integration of documentary and aesthetic concerns which symbolize ICP’s own position.” (Press release, 10/1979.) The Atget’s Gardens exhibition “represents the first time that a selection of Atget’s photographs of the royal parks and gardens of France have appeared in one place. Curated by Jacqueline Onassis and William Howard Adams.” ( Atget died 90 years ago today.

On an early Saturday morning, November 17, 1979, before the museum opened, a public presentation was held with William Howard Adams, Berenice Abbott, and Alan Trachtenberg. The audio clips, below, are from this gathering.

William Howard Adams asks Berenice Abbott about meeting Atget for the first time, more than 50 years ago, in Paris. Abbott speaks about: meeting Atget while she was working with Man Ray in 1926; she was inspired to find him immediately after seeing his photos; buying prints from him; she recommended that everybody buy prints from him; Atget’s sadness that was the consequence of the death of his partner Valentine Compagnon; going into the darkroom with Atget and more…

Cornell Capa asks Berenice Abbott how she fell in love with Atget’s work and what was the motivation and passion behind bringing the photos and glass plate negatives back to the United States [in the spring of 1929] and why did she spend over forty years working with the photographs. (It was love at first sight.) Abbott replies that Atget was the “only photographer I ever got excited about.” And “I was just crazy about his work.”

Asked by a member of the audience about the influence that Atget’s photographs had on her own photographs Abbott says your passion comes from your subject, mostly; that she didn’t fit in with her contemporaries (Steiglitz, Adams, Strand, Weston) in the American school of photography that was like a closed corporation; photographing New York was the only reason that she returned to New York; and that you should “take the shadows as they come.”

To be continued…

Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Trianon, 1926 (2011.52.7)

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