Eugène Atget (1857-1927)
[According to Walter Benjamin] Eugène Atget’s photographs of deserted streets in Paris anticipate surrealist photography – “a salutary estrangement between man and his surroundings.”
(Eduardo Cavada, Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History, 1997, p.7)
As Benjamin explains in the 1935 version of Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century: “corresponding to the form of the new means of production, which in the beginning is still ruled by the form of the old… are images in the collective consciousness in which the new is permeated with the old. These images are wish images; in them the collective seeks both to overcome and to transfigure the immaturity of the social product and the inadequacies in the social organization of production. At the same time, what emerges in these images is the resolute effort to distance oneself from all that is antiquated – which includes, however, the recent past. These tendencies deflect the imagination (which is given impetus by the new) back upon the primal past. In the dream in which each epoch entertains images of its successor, the latter appears wedded to elements of primary history… And the experiences of such a society – as stored in the unconscious of the collective – engendered, through interpretation with what is new, the utopia that has its trace in a thousand configurations of life, from enduring edifices to passing fashions.
(Walter Benjamin, Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century, 2004, p.4-5)
…a picture of a corset shop in Paris by Eugene Atget at the beginning of the century. A severely traditional French shop-window is seen, filled with headless and inhumanly corseted dummies, while another dummy hangs outside. In 1931 Walter Benjamin wrote that Atget ‘cleanses’ the atmosphere of traditional portrait photography, showing the environs of Paris emptied of people, thus setting the scene for a surrealist school of photography which might explore a ‘salutory estrangement between man and his surroundings’.
(Simon Watney, Making Strange: The Shattered Mirror, in Thinking photography, 1982, p.167)
Walker Evans (1903-75)
Richard Avedon (1923-2004)
F.C. Gundlach (b.1926)
Annie Leibovitz (b.1949)