They are three of the finest photographers of the Twentieth Century; Man Ray, Bernice Abbot and Eugene Atget. Each left us a legacy of photographs that reached new heights. Photos which have often become so embedded into popular culture that they are familiar to millions even if they don’t know the name of the artist or the stories behind the work.
And their are stories, many of them. For instance, how these three are connected. A chain of influence and talent, one connected to the other, connected to the other. It’s fascinating stuff.
However, the main thing is to remind yourself of the work. Those images. The actual photos of these three people. So, with that in mind, I’m going to keep the words to a minimum here.
They would only become a distraction.
Man Ray was true force. He was a Surrealist and a major contributor to the Dadaist movement. He worked in several media and actually considered himself primarily a painter. Odd to many, considering his photos are so incredibly famous.
Ray remains extraordinarily popular even today. His painting and photographs regularly sell at auction for millions of dollars. And those images can be found in one form or another on many a wall, from college dorm to multi-million dollar mansion.
His photography still captivates and fascinates.
Berenice Abbott intended to be a sculptor. However, in 1921, she went to Paris and met, the already established, Man Ray. She soon became Ray’s assistant.
However, she became most well-known for her photos of New York during the 20s and 30s. The city became her favorite subject and she photographed it in a way that had never been seen before.
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 Man Ray and Berenice Abbott.
Atget loved Paris. He 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.
AUTHORS NOTE: Some material from this post appeared in earlier Shadows Writer posts on Man Ray and Eugene Atget. Sorry, if that seems like cheating.