Eugene Atget; Old Paris

Eugene Atget; Old Paris


The National Gallery of New South Wales holds Eugene Atget; Old Paris. This photographic exhibition has been showing since the 24th of August and comes to a close on the 4th of November and missing such a treatise would indeed be a shame. The display itself is a well organised and curated showcase of old Parisian images from renowned photographer Eugene Atget. The display provides booklets and placards with fantastic background knowledge which I must admit, enhances the experience a great deal. . The deserted nature of many of the lane-ways and gardens is more eerie than picturesque. It seems lonely, he is able to capture an emotion.

Whilst being intellectually stimulating, the photographs themselves are nostalgic and perfectly angled to recreate your vision and understanding of the world. The streets are like any other, but the way Atget has photographed them is so unique and refreshing. He frames the forms and structures of architecture, décor and Paris that connect you with the past, as well as leave the past to your imagination because often he angles them to have a lane-way veer off around a curve, so you wonder what is at the end. He captures the empty labyrinthine nature of a Paris long forgotten, a Paris before the glitz and glamour of bustling department stores. The exhibition is evocative of the parts of Paris that aren’t famous in tourism. It gave you a sense of Paris before the fame, before fanciful people. He snapshots the everyday lives of street vendors and pedlars, labourers at work. It’s uniquely humbling, strangely nostalgic and impossibly lonely.  The deserted nature of many of the lane-ways and gardens is more eerie than picturesque. It does seem lonely, and the ability to capture that emotion in a multitude of photographs, is such a gift.

The photos have a certain air, a blur of mysticism and reality; something which convinces you that you can literally step into the sepia and end up in a colour-filled 19th century Paris. He creates an air of intimacy, a bond often labelled a sacred space between the spectator and the spectacle. It was the side of Paris that people forget; the shanty towns, the homeless, those who live on the edge, the rim of the city beyond the walls. His photography gives the Nobodies a voice, makes them a Somebody. We are not overstimulated, we are enchanted.


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