A flâneur and photographer at once, Eugène Atget (1857–1927) was obsessed with walking the streets. After trying his hand at painting and acting, the native of Libourne turned to photography and moved to Paris. He supplied studies for painters, architects, and stage designers, but became enraptured by what he called “documents” of the city and its environs. His scenes rarely included people, but rather the architecture, landscape, and artifacts that made up the societal and cultural stage.
Atget was not particularly renowned during his lifetime but in the 1920s came to the attention of the Dada and Surrealist avant-garde through Man Ray. Four of his images, with their particular fusion of mimesis and mystery, appeared in the surrealist journal, La Révolution Surréaliste, while Ray and much of his artistic circle purchased Atget prints. Atget’s fame grew after his death, with several articles and a monograph by Berenice Abbott. Several leading photographers, including Walker Evans and Bill Brandt, have since acknowledged their debt to Atget.