Eugene Atget documented Paris from 1888 until his death in 1927. Like many people, I consider him to have been the greatest photographer of all time. Atget straightforwardly documented the city with photographs that give you the feeling that all the transitory things that people do and are have washed away, leaving only
their transcendent accomplishments.
On a 1989 trip to Paris, I suddenly found myself face to face with a spiral-topped gatepost that I knew very well from a beautiful photograph by Atget (the photograph on the left). I rephotographed his gatepost from memory (the photograph on the right) and wondered how many other Atget subjects might still be holding their poses.
There, among the things and places that Atget had admired, I resolved to return and do a rephotographic exploration to discover if the haunting and beautiful Paris of Atget’s vision still existed. Eight years later, in 1997 and 1998, I made three trips to Paris and rephotographed 500 of the scenes that Atget photographed. 24 of those image pairs are shown here in Lens Culture, with my image on the right and Atget’s image on the left.
As I was rephotographing Atget images, I kept seeing places that he hadn’t photographed but that seemed to me to be also rich with the feeling of his work. I photographed hundreds of those places where I felt Atget’s spirit. Included here are just six of them. I don’t claim to have been channeling Atget, or that Atget would have photographed those places were he to see them. I was walking around Paris “in Atget’s shoes” and this is where they took me.
Having photographed all of these scenes, it is clear to me that the Paris of Atget’s vision is still there and available to eyes that look for it. In central Paris, most of the scenes that Atget photographed are still there, and still posing. You can see the effects of acid rain on them; you can see the effects of graffiti; most of all, you can see that the magical streets of Paris are now thickly covered with parked cars.
However, among all the other Parises that co-exist so thickly in one amazing city, Atget’s Paris is still definitely and hauntingly there.
— Christopher Rauschenberg
Editor's Note: Rauschenberg talks about this body of work in a very animated 14 minute audio interview with LensCulture.
Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget's Paris
by Christopher Rauschenberg
Hardcover, 192 pages
11.2 x 8.7 inches
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007
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