There is a certain kind of low raking light shining behind the camera that is tempting to use but that is difficult to manage, due to the photographer’s own shadow. Solutions to this problem include eliminating the shadow through the camera angle, aligning it with the shadow of another object, or incorporating it as a formal element and making it a form of self portrait.

Here Atget successfully employed a combination of these solutions. Partially aligned with the shadow of a tree, he chose to allow the hard-edged shape of the camera on its tripod to fall near the base of the column and enlivened the composition with its geometry. The other bust, isolated in a shaft of light, serves as a counterbalance. The result is a wonderful dance of light and shadow echoed by the tree branch slithering along the right side of the frame. The head of the bust is tilted back and dissolves into intense light, recalling portrayals of figures in ecstasy; a subject dear to the Surrealists who first published Atget’s photographs in La Révolution Surréaliste, one year after this photograph was made.

- Stuart Alexander

I invite those who think that Atget’s reflections in his shop fronts were ‘accident’ to look more than once at a fair-sized ground glass. Seeing reflections is as natural for photographers as seeing shadows and the wonders go light. Reflections are mysterious and suggestive. They are a very legitimate montage effect in reality itself. Is there anything more mysterious than reality? The photographer particularly is endowed by nature and necessity to probe and search these mysteries. A man who knew so unfailingly where to place his camera knew very well what he was doing.”

- Berenice Abbott

“Their clothes are heavy-looking, redolent of dirt and perspiration; the man is not especially prepossessing, the woman is almost a midget;…the oilcloth cover on the piano recalls the weathers that they face, and the bourgeois facade behind them is not hospitable. Yet the expression of radiant, exultant happiness and pride on the woman’s face is unequaled by anything I can recall in art except the closing shot of Marlene Dietrich in Sternberg’s Scarlet Empress; and, with the incongruity in ages, yet manifest closeness of the couple, the picture seems to me one of the greatest pictorial images of love that we have.”

- John Fraser

If one visited every central casting agency on earth to find the perfect models for a picture of three madams (or a madam and two workers) weighing business prospects, one would never find these three. Even if one specified that they should be chosen to personify generosity, stupidity, and greed, respectively, one would never find these perfect exemplars. If they had been dressed by the great Edith Head (three straps over the fat instep, each held by a false pearl) they would not be dressed as perfectly as they are here, and Fred Zinnemann would not have framed them so well in a doorway as they have framed themselves.

- John Szarkowski

“Often Atget’s trees represented all the trees of time. He seemed to impart to them a life of their own, and a reality that I have not seen equalled…I make a guess that the tree was a symbol to him of himself…The trees he photographed also survived the blows of time and fate. They, too, were sturdy of physique and could withstand the pounding of the elements and the struggle of existence.”

- Berenice Abbott

Atget’s titles are factual (even when wrong) and straightforward, and there is no reason, no known precedent, for thinking that his use of the word villa has any ironic intent, even though the choice of word seems a little willful. Perhaps these chiffonniers did have a room in the city, and retired to the Zone on weekends. The rich miscellany of totems, ornaments, or charms that cover the facade and bestride the pediment of the villa seem a mixture of the contrived and the natural. The pheasant (at one o’clock above the door) is surely real, and the dog and lamb, or whatever, on the roof seem to have about them some vestigial resemblance to creatures that once lived…The large birds, dogs, and cats might serve to keep rats at bay; the kewpie dolls and miniature toy horses may have served a more spiritual function.

- John Szarkowski

Eugène Atget created albums of his photographs for sale to businesses, to individuals and primarily, to institutions. Most surviving intact albums of his work are in French collections that bought them directly from Atget in the first years of the 20th century, such as the Musée Carnavalet, the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris and the Bibliothèque Nationale. This album features 28 albumen prints inserted into four corner slits on each page with the title and negative number written in pencil in Atget’s distinctive florid hand. The lack of adhesive, easily allowing removal of individual prints, could explain in part why intact albums are so rare. The 28 plates represent a broad sampling of the subjects that Atget was drawn to, from street views, architectural details and interiors, to shop fronts, including ‘Au Bon Puits’ with Atget’s reflection.

Like the documentation of the street trades, the recording of figurative commercial signs was one of the more picturesque aspects of the campaign to save Old Paris. With the adoption of street names and numbers and the increasing literacy of the population in the nineteenth century, the tradition of hanging out signs dwindled to an occasional painted panel on a restaurant or inn and a few generic trade emblems, such as a horse’s head for the horse butcher and a red baton for the tobacco merchant. By the end of the century many of the distinctive old wrought-iron pendants and sculpted relief signs had disappeared. Of those that remained, most were signs of wine merchants which had resisted destruction or discard because they were firmly fixed into large grill-work ensembles. Because they served alcohol and were open at night, the bistros, cabarets, and inns of Old Paris had been required by law to be fenced round with strong iron grills. The only unbarred opening was the door through which clients entered or else handed in a container to be filled. Over the door was a figurative sign that served as both name and address of the establishment. Many signs concerned the drinks served, others were vestiges of heraldic blazons (e.g., the Golden Lion, the Golden Sun), and others were invented, sometimes with puns or humor intended (e.g., “At the good well” [Au Bon Puits] .)… In 1913 Atget bound many of these same pictures together with others of old stores and sold the book, Enseignes et vieilles boutiques du Vieux Paris, to the Bibliothèque Nationale.

- John Szarkowski

“Not for nothing were the pictures of Atget compared with those of the scene of a crime. But is not every spot of our cities the scene of a crime? every passerby a perpetrator? Does not the photographer — descendent of augurers and haruspices — uncover guilt in his pictures?” It has been said that "not he who is ignorant of writing but ignorant of photography will be the illiterate of the future.” But isn’t a photographer who can’t read his own pictures worth less than an illiterate? Will not captions become the essential component of pictures? Those are the questions in which the gap of 90 years that separates today from the age of the daguerreotypes discharges its historical tension. It is in the light of these sparks that the first photographs emerge so beautifully, so unapproachably from the darkness of our grandfathers’ days.

- Walter Benjamin

“His general note is lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail, over all of which is thrown a poetry which is not ‘the poetry of the street’ or ‘the poetry of Poetry of Paris’ but the projection of Atget’s person.”

- Walker Evans

To wander in a kind of reverie, to take a stroll as they call it, is a good way for a philosopher to spend his time; particularly in that kind of bastard countryside, somewhat ugly but bizarre, made up of two different natures, which surrounds certain great cities, notably Paris. To observe the banlieue is to observe an amphibian. End of trees, beginning of roofs, end of grass, beginning of paving stones, end of ploughed fields, beginning of shops, the end of the beaten track, the beginning of the passions, the end of the murmur of all things divine, the beginning of the noise of humankind - all of this holds an extraordinary interest. And thus, in these unattractive places, forever marked by the passer-by with the epithet sad, the promenades, apparently aimless, of the dreamer.

- Victor Hugo

As Atget grew older he made his pictures out of less and less. In his last years he seemed often to make them out of almost nothing. These pictures seem to concentrate everything he learned about his world and his art in an imagery of grave simplicity, as though there was no longer time or need for complication.

- John Szarkowski

If one is tempted to pour scorn on the theory of Atget’s late flowering as an artist, an image such as this might surely persuade otherwise…solid reality has been transformed into pure space and visual illusion. If the picture is turned upside down (the way he would view it on his camera’s ground-glass screen) the almost unprecedented daring of Atget’s conception becomes more readily apparent. As John Szarkowski has remarked of more than one Atget image: ‘What did he think he was photographing?’

- Gerry Badger

Eugene Atget often photographed stairs and steps. Like the roads and passageways that also feature prominently in his photographic inventory of Paris, they lead us deeper into the picture even as they indicate a way out of and beyond it. From a purely formal point of view the horizontal lines provide an intensification of perspectival recession - like sleepers in a length of railroad track - as the steps mount the picture plane…The stairs do not always lead to the light (in a 1904 view at St-Cloud the steps lead into an impenetrable darkness of trees and shadows ) but they are almost always leading up, Atget rarely photographed stairs from the top, looking down; invariably he was at the bottom, looking up. In this way the stairs serve as hills, metaphors, that is, for the further exhaustive endeavors that lie ahead: climb them there will be other - possibly better i views, other photographs.

- Geoff Dyer

Atget seemed to be drawn to this avenue of trees running at a right angle to the chateau [at Parc de Sceaux]. He photographed it at different seasons and at different times of day, exploring the light and shadow breaking through the old trees. The avenue, called the Allée de la Duchesse, was a part of André Le Nôtre’s original plan for the park.

The stripped and poignant old trees recall in their perfect order the rules of the French formal garden brought to perfection in the seventeenth century by André Le Nôtre. “Soaring and erect within the vast offering of their branches,” Proust wrote, “and yet peaceful and calm, the trees’ strange and natural pose invites us with gracious murmurings to join in this life, so ancient and so young, so different from our own, of which it seems to be the mysterious reverse.”

- William Howard Harris

Shaped from the coloristic properties of light, mood, and atmosphere and private estimations of cultural value, the late views often contain very little that is not ineffable…[Atget] emptied much detail and incident out of his pictures and filled them with resonant atmosphere and silence…

Maria Morris Hambourg

Daylight + Pace/MacGill