Monday, 19 January 2009

Two careers: his and mine

Ironwork door, The Hague, January 2009

Yesterday I watched a really interesting documentary on Eugene Atget and Berenice Abbott, their work and relationship.

There were several inter-locking stories being told. Firstly there was the work of Atget in Paris. His formal documentary style and the (even then) anachronistic technique he employed. This set in the context of the huge change Paris was undergoing at the time. It was observed that he often had few people in his photographs but it could be argued that is as much a function of technique (long exposures on glass plate), time of day and locations. I was also left wondering whether he was trying to avoid the new development to avoid the crowds, or with the intent of creating a nostalgic record of the Paris being destroyed.

The there was Abbott as rescuer of the Atget archive and documenter of New York. While she held a similar style to Atget, it is clear that her subject was much more the life of the city (NYC) as created through its rapid development.

The title of this post comes from a quote by Abbott who felt that she was as well known for the Atget archive, perilously transported to New York from Paris, as she was for her own photography. The story of how Atget came to be well known, posthumously, through Abbott's efforts were a strong part of the piece.

There was also a nic aside from Hank O'Neal on how he came to take this photograph of Jackie Onassis.

All in all an enjoyable aside for a Sunday afternoon, especially for a photographic ignorant like myself.

1 comment:

  1. Martin,
    I also admire the work of Eugene Atget. About two years ago my wife and I were taking a digital photography course at local community college. One of the assigments was to emulate a famous photography and give a talk about the photographer. I chose Atget. I was struck by his use of anachronistic equipment and processes. I was curious how these compared to modern DSLRs, such as my 20D. Based on information found through Internet searches and a couple of books on Atget, I assembled the following:

    Equipment and Technique:
    Simple 18 X 24 cm (7 X 9.5 in.) view camera
    Glass plates with non-color sensitive collodion emulsions (never patented)
    Bulb shutter
    Unknown lens focal length- estimated 11-12 inches, ~f11 wide open
    No exposure meter- Judgment and experience
    Exposures based on a coefficient table with mathematical calculations (7-8 seconds @f11)
    Compare f11 @1/30 @ISO 100- 8 f-stops
    ISO ~0.375 for collodian emulsions [my calculation]
    Used small apertures if possible
    No artificial light of any sort- natural light only
    Most photos believed taken in summer due to available light

    Could you please list the documentary you viewed?

    Regards, Don Haig (


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