Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget was born in Libourne on February 12, 1857. He lost his parents early and was raised by his grandparents. When he was 20, he joined the crew of a freighter. Thereafter he studied at an acting school in Paris; however, he eventually left without graduating. Then Atget travelled for a few years with an acting company through the suburbs of Paris. In 1887, he gave up acting; in the following year, he moved to Somme. There he began to paint and to take photographs, and around 1890 he decided to become a professional photographer. Atget first specialized in satisfying artists’ needs for photographic subject models.
In Paris, he made himself independent and first worked on commissions, but later also on his own photographs. Atget wanted to create a kind of lasting photographic record of the urban picture of old Paris and its environs, which, with the arrival of the industrial age, was changing dramatically.
In 1897 he began to document old buildings which were condemned to demolition and the lively activity of small merchants in Parisian streets (for example "Petits Métiers", "Le Vieux Paris"). He organized the photographs according to a numbering system he developed himself.
Later he added facades and details, and after 1902 also subjects from the area surrounding Paris. During his final creative years, he also worked on plant and tree studies. He often returned to earlier sites in order to capture the changes that had happened there. His customers were museums, collections and artists. In this way, a total of approximately 8,000 photographs that make up series according to their subject matter were produced.
Atget used simple equipment that was already old during his time – a box camera and glass plates coated with an emulsion of gelatine impregnated with silver bromide.
The discovery of Atget’s unusual work is thanks to Man Ray’s young assistant, Berenice Abbott, who acquired many of his photographs and negatives in the 1920’s and published them in 1964 in the book "The World of Atget" – 37 years after Atget’s death in Paris on August 4. Atget’s work is now considered a milestone on the path to photographic modernity – it blazed a trail for documentary and concept photography.