Pace/MacGill Gallery is pleased to present Eugène Atget: A Quiet Calling, on view November 6, 2014 through January 3, 2015.  Drawn from a single private collection, the exhibition features 30 of Atget’s finest photographs that explore his ambitious, lifelong project to create a visible record of French culture.  Including both iconic and previously unseen images, the works on view demonstrate how Atget’s poetic intuition and clarity of vision anticipated the sensibilities of modern art and ultimately yielded the most influential body of work produced by a single photographer in the 20th century.  The public is invited to attend an opening reception on Thursday, November 6 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

A self-trained, commercial photographer working in and around Paris for more than 30 years, Eugène Atget (1857–1927) considered himself a creator of documents, rather than an artist.  He came to the medium in the late 1880s and sold his photographs of old houses, churches, streets, courtyards, doors, stairs, and other decorative motifs – “Documents pour artistes,” as indicated by the sign on his studio door – to painters, illustrators, engravers, and set designers for use as source material in their trades.  Beginning in 1898, however, Atget turned his attention to the architecture and landscape of Old Paris and its environs.  His single-handed efforts resulted in an urban portrait of approximately 10,000 images that eloquently captured the soul of the changing city.  As Atget wrote in 1920:

For more than 20 years I have been working alone and of my own initiative in all the old streets of Old Paris to make a collection of 18 x 24 [centimeter] photographic negatives: artistic documents of beautiful urban architecture from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The old mansions, historic or interesting houses, beautiful facades, lovely doors, beautiful paneling, door knockers, old fountains, stylish staircases (wrought iron and wood)… Today this enormous artistic and documentary collection is finished; I can say that I possess the whole of Old Paris.
The ambition of Atget’s documentary project was reflected in the topical classification and organization of his archive.  The photographs on view represent each of the five major series of his oeuvre – Landscape-Documents, Art of Old Paris, Environs, Picturesque Paris, and Topography – and one of the seven thematic albums he carefully composed for sale to collectors and institutions c. 1910, Documents pour l’histoire du Vieux Paris, will also be on display.  Despite their increasing obsolescence, Atget remained dedicated to 19th-century techniques and large format technology throughout his career, producing contact prints from 18 x 24 cm glass-plate negatives, often on albumen silver photographic papers.
In his documentation of France and its cultural legacy, Atget poetically transformed the ordinary and expanded the possibilities of the photographic medium.  The powerful and clear description of fact found in his pictures, combined with a lyric sensitivity, translated traditional objective recording into an original vision that was purely and uniquely his own.  As John Szarkowski wrote in his 1973 publication Looking at Photographs:
Atget’s work is unique on two levels. He was the maker of a great visual catalogue of the fruits of French culture, as it survived in and near Paris in the first quarter of this century. He was in addition a photographer of such authority and originality that his work remains a bench mark against which much of the most sophisticated contemporary photography measures itself. Other photographers had been concerned with describing specific facts (documentation), or with exploiting their individual sensibilities (self-expression). Atget encompassed and transcended both approaches when he set himself the task of understanding and interpreting in visual terms a complex, ancient, and living tradition.

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