Eugène Atget’s nostalgic sense of Modernity – an anachronistic documentation
Eugène Atget: Archeologist, collector and photographer of the old Paris, these are only some
of the titles attributed to the famous personality of Atget and his photographic oeuvre. The
works of Atget contain certain temporal tensions, which will be discussed in the following.
They reflect the past, the present and the future on different levels and provide a view from
contemporary “modernity” into the past, thus preserving it and transferring it to the future. By
means of his works it is therefore possible to investigate the construction of the Middle Ages
in 19th-century France and its production. A preoccupation with the vanishing past is no
singular phenomenon, other artists and writers like Charles Meryon and Charles Baudelaire
examined the topic as well.
When Atget is born in 1857, Paris has already been subject to a dynamic process of modernization and transformation for almost five years. As he turns towards photography at the end of the 19th century, he decides to focus on a specific part of the city: medieval Paris. His discussion of time does not only take place on a motivic level, but on a material one. What is significant is not only the fact that he chooses and documents motifs of the past, but rather the way in which he presents and constructs that past. As he uses a large-format camera, it is possible to state that the so-called modern technique of photography – speaking in terms of technical progress – in terms of Atget is also as antique and surpassed as his motifs. The duality of time gets sharper, as the “passed” is presented through a surpassed technique.
Fabian Röderer, born in 1992, studied art history and French philology with an emphasis on literature at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum from 2011 to 2014. Since 2014 he is enrolled in the Art History Master’s Program of the university of Hamburg. Throughout his studies he focused mainly on French 19th-century art history, art criticism, the history of photography, the history of art history as well as the history of the museum as an institution and its development. These interests were further encouraged during an internship in a Parisian art gallery. He completed his bachelor studies with a thesis on Auguste Rodin’s portraits of Rose Beuret.