Atget’s Neighbors

Eugene Atget was dismissed as just a record keeper for almost his entire life. It was only the intervention of a couple of bossy, young, neighbors that probably saved him from artistic obscurity. Those neighbors were Surrealist, Man Ray, and, his friend, New York photographer, Berenice Abbott.

Atget was not ashamed of being a record keeper of his time and the city he lived in. It was his profession. His photographs were used as source material for architects and city planners and he was paid quite well for his skills. So much so, that he became financially independent and able to photograph subjects purely of his own choosing for much of his career.

Only in the final few years of his life were Man Ray and Berenice Abbot able to convince Atget that his photographs might be more than mere documents. That maybe there was something ethereal and dream-like about them that transcended simple record keeping. With Ray’s and Abbott’s help, Atget’s work was, eventually, purchased by such notables as Picasso, Derain, and Matisse. As importantly, Abbott properly preserved and archived his collection, which is why it can still be found in most of the world’s great museums.

photos by Many Ray and Berenice Abbott