From long-ago Paris streets, unintentional art

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From long-ago Paris streets, unintentional art

When Eugene Atget (1856-1927) took his viewfinder to Paris, he didn’t have the slightest intention of being an artist.
Poverty-stricken, the French photographer was too hungry to think about art. He merely took photographs to sell to serious artists or interior designers, who used them as models for their own work.
He wandered around Paris, photographing scenes he hoped would attract painters or designers, like back alleys at dawn, or sculpture on the street.
For about 30 years, Atget had a prolific career, producing more than 8,000 photographs.
In the early 20th century, such straight-ahead cityscape photography was not in vogue at all; photographers of the day were more interested in portraits or still-life photos.
But a century later, Atget is remembered as a pioneer of documentary photography. Some of his work is currently being displayed at Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery in Seoul.
Sixty prints made from his negatives are on display at the gallery, including a vintage print developed by Atget himself.
Atget, of course, had no expectation of ever being anything but an anonymous toiler.
When the photographer Man Ray offered to publish his photographs in a journal, Atget said, “I’m an archivist, not an artist.”
After his photography became well-known, however, Atget’s contemporaries called him one of the trailblazers of postmodernist photography. Flattering though this might have been, it didn’t put food on his table.
Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher, called Atget’s work true to the nature of photography, in that it didn’t require any manipulation.
Atget became more famous after his death, when a close friend, Berenice Abbott, a photographer and critic, arranged for his photographs to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His work would influence early American documentary artists like Walker Evans and Robert Frank.
The photographs in this exhibition are being offered for sale; they carry price tags from 1.4 million won ($1,100) to 14 million won.
Seminars on Atget’s photography by local photography professors and professionals are scheduled every Saturday until July 17. The exhibition runs until August 5.

by Chun Su-jin

Admission is 4,000 won. The Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery is in Insa-dong, central Seoul, best reached from exit No. 6 of Anguk Station, on subway line No. 3. The gallery has two small halls within walking distance in Insa-dong. For more information, call (02) 733-6331 or visit the Web site at
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