Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Aug 26, 2017.

  1. I agree, but I do think (IMO) that Nesbit is correct in insisting that he was not only not a surrealist, but that he very much wanted to actively resist any tendency to see his work that way. I think that his connection to the real, to history, to the multi-layered public reality that was very real, not at all surreal, was essential to his way of seeing.

    Also, Nesbit has an enormous amount of documentation that she gives in the book to back up her take on Atget's work. I tend to think, as you do, that she pushes too hard away from any idea of "art" but maybe that's necessary to resist the opposite tendency (to take him as an artist).
  2. Reality is often surreal and a good documentarian might very well include that in his work.

    For example, how could a documentarian studying the rise of Donald Trump and Trumpism in the U.S. today avoid surrealism? It would be dishonest.

    Reality has become the nightmare!
  3. Phil, I think we're getting into two separate tangents here. There's what Atget himself thought his work was about (historical), which is what Nesbit is sorting out; and then there's what we are able to do with his work, regardless of whatever it was that he thought he was doing, which (our using it as it moves us to use it) I think is perfectly valid.

    The thing I like (I'm not saying anybody else "needs" to like it too) is his noticing, and stating strongly, the difference between responding to the social/cultural layering all around him, as opposed to wanting to play with or inside of his own personal world. I think that if photographers don't notice this explicitly while working, it's easy to slip-slide around between the personal and that which is there without you, that doesn't "need" you as part of the play. Knowing which or whether you are doing one or the other or not gives a cleaner vision, IMO. Atget knew, IMO. IMO IMO IMO ...
  4. .............
    I agree. That's what I was trying to say in my previous post. I also strongly agree that photography's difference is the source of most of our (interesting!) discussions or explorations of this art-document intersection.

    Nesbit notices that, too, and I think the following long passage from her really illustrates what we've been trying to sort out. Nesbit reads this as a further elaboration on his pursuit of the 'document' of what he knew. I (and I'm guessing you) can easily see this as very much the attitude of an artist at work even if he didn't notice (or care) about how he had metamorphosed at this point in his life. I think he was so much a photographer that he lived inside of the medium.

    Here's the Nesbit passage ('technical' means, more or less, showing the things in a useful way for prospective clients):

    "Around the pond called the Octogone six statues remained, 'most of them terribly damaged: a Rape of Persephone, a Conquered Gaul killing himself after having slit his wife's throat, a sturdy Orestes and Pylades group, an Apollo and a Daphne, and Electra and Orestes, an Orator.' "

    "Atget's work at Sceaux fit into an album, the usual sixty pictures, which took the park at different times of year, looking at the way nature had eroded human achievement, destroying the classical line, the clear form, the pensée. His Orestes and Pylades were shown from behind, not because they were better seen or studied that way, but to show the characters from the past contemplating their own bitter fate. The classical past seemed to be surviving by a thread. In his documents the technical signs had been so bent and disregarded that they could not even lend ideological support. These gnarled, opinionated, technical signs kept the document in that space before knowledge, as if trying to hold it there indefinitely, away from the modern state.

    "Atget moved his documents toward closure in the 1920s, closure that would have various functions and various forms. Closure became Atget's last way of locating his positions, making the distinctions, dividing points of view from one another, disputing with notions of universality, positing a class consciousness. Albert Valentin and Pierre MacOrlin tried to pin down the qualities, giving them names, the fantastique, the au-delà. The line of demarcation itself is perhaps more interesting. It was where the author could express his power, his desire, and his contempt.

    "Atget expressed all of this repeatedly in the last section of the Paris pittoresque. In the 1920s that series had been continued, without benefit of a project comparable to the Bibliothèque Nationale albums to guide it. In 1921 Atget put the prostitutes that he had begun to photograph for Dignimont there and then worked hither and yon on shop fronts, docks, circuses, manikins, the details of the populaire. The separations he was building between it and bourgeois culture continued in the direction he had begun in his albums, but he worked the extremities of the populaire with an urgency that grew cynical. ... The players were diverse, the manikins macabre. But their theater was popular, their tale immaterial, the point was their longue durée even as Paris mechanized, modernized, à 'lameréicaine. Atget gave Gilles without Watteau. An exclusive low, a pure low, a low that held itself away from knowledge and financial speculation. Just like the Orestes and Pylades. A low without a high.

    "Low culture, popular culture was, like death, not a concept to be absorbed and filed away. Atget's point was made. It was a point with a politics, of course, but it was not made using the forms with which political culture was usually expressed, not with a social realism, not with an art social, not with a celebration of the worker's body or the folklorique. The forms Atget used were those native to the document."​

    I think that last sentence is a lot of what makes Atget so interesting to me, beyond the beauty of his pictures. He's finding, exploring, what *is* native to the photographic document.
  5. Holy smokes! We missed it! Find out where the new owner lives, check the weather for a dark night, and we'll put on our black woollies and reappropriate that little beauty. Nobody should be allowed to have a real Atget for $1200: we would only be setting things right ...
  6. Did you watch the Sudek video linked on the Atget-video page? I've always wondered how Sudek managed to use his 8x10 with one arm. They show little glimpses of him setting up the camera, which are amazing (to me) and they show a little blip of him in the darkroom, but not the thing I really wonder about which is how he could get the dark slide out of the film holder with one hand. When I did that with an 8x10, I definitely needed both hands. Maybe his were looser than mine (Liscos).

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