My Own Atget

I already have one Atget print hanging on my wall in my front room, not an original print made by the man himself, but an excellent high quality reproduction which was a special supplement to a US photographic magazine back I think in the 1970s, printed by a much higher quality process than the normal magazine. I also have another rather fine image by Josef Sudek framed and on the opposite wall; I think they are sheet-fed lithographs and they certainly have a remarkable quality.

I don’t think anyone who has seen them framed on the wall has ever taken them to be anything other than a normal photographic print, and certainly in many of the books on my bookshelves there are some fine examples of the printer’s craft, duotone and quadtone reproductions that are often equal and sometimes superior to the darkroom prints that are shown in exhibitions and sold for high prices by photography dealers.

Not all photographic prints are particularly good prints, and some ‘vintage prints’ that make their way into the hands of dealers were never intended to be so. Some are prints that were rapidly made with little consideration to be printed in magazines and newspapers, and many do not represent the image at its best. When I spent a lot of time in the darkroom I would often make half a dozen prints from the same negative before I arrived at the one which I thought was exactly how I wanted it. That was the print which went into my portfolio or onto the exhibition wall, but there were often others that were almost right that I couldn’t bear to throw away, and I think the same was true of many photographers in the past. And I’ve seen prints on some dealers’ walls which surely must have come from the photographer’s waste bin.

Things are rather different for most photographers today. Many actually produce limited editions of prints, either made by themselves or a professional printer that are more or less identical, and if working from a digital file exactly so. The kind of work we put into each print, including dodging, burning and retouching is now incorporated into the making of the digital file.

Photography is essentially a medium of reproduction. The calotype became more important than the Daguerreotype despite its technical deficiences because the negative could be used to make multiple prints, limited only by the time it took to produce them. And digital has taken that a step further, with the digital file that produces as many prints as you like itself being infinitely reproducible without any variation.

High quality digital files of a number of great photographic images have of course been available for some years, particularly of the work available in the Library of Congress collection. On my computer I have large digital files of a number of the best images made by Walker Evans for the FSA, of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother and of many other fine photographs. Enough to make a fine gallery of photography.

I have only ever printed one or two of these files largely because I simply don’t have the wall space to display them – and what I have is already filled with other images, including both photographic prints by myself and others as well as a few painting and some reproductions of paintings.

Jardin de l’hôtel des abbés de Cluny, (actuel Musée National du Moyen Age), 24 rue du Sommerard, Paris (Vème arr.). 1898. Photographie Photographie d’Eugène Atget (1857-1927) Paris, musée Carnavalet.

But today I downloaded a rather beautiful Atget and there are many more online along with works by many other great photographers, particularly French photographers, as the City of Paris has made available over 100,000 of the works in its museums freely on-line as high quality 300dpi digital images under a Creative Commons CC0 licence, essentially dedicating “the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.

The CC0 licence is only applicable to “the reproductions of a work the author(s) of which died more than 70 years ago, after which time his/her works have fallen into the public domain, and which is the reproduction of a two-dimensional cultural asset the author of which died more than 70 years ago, a reproduction created by a photographer who has permitted Paris Musées to place the photograph under a CCØ licence or by a photographer employed by Paris Musées.” It also restricts you from selling the files, though you can use the images for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

As their press release states (in French), you can now download the “oeuvres des grands noms de la photographie (Atget, Blancard, Marville, Carjat…) ou de la peinture (Courbet, Delacroix, Rembrandt, Van Dyck…). ” And while for the painters what you are downloading is a photograph of their paintings, for the photographers it is something much closer to the orginal, enabling you to make excellent digital photograph prints.

So far I’ve only downloaded a couple of Atget prints from what must be a very large collection, as his main source of income was selling his prints to the Paris museums. I first became aware of his work in a Paris museum, where some of the prints in a display of historic Paris for me stood out from the rest, and there in the small print of their captions was his name. The image above was probably one of those that impressed me and made me want to find out more about the photographer when I visited the musée Carnavalet in 1973.

There is a slight problems to overcome in downloading the images, in that they come in ZIP files, the image jpg accompanied by a PDF about usage (in both English and French) and a text file with some image details and its source. Unfortunately those I tried have file names that are too long for Windows 7 to handle (eg: cartel_atget_eugene_jean_eugene_auguste_atget_dit_musee_de_cluny_24_rue_du_sommerard_5eme_arrondissement._jardin._ph6338_132304.txt) and I needed to use the free 7-Zip to access the files. I haven’t yet tried in with WIndows 10.

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