Sunday, March 05, 2006

Atget at George Eastman House

Atget & Rauschenberg

I don't know if this exhibit will travel anywhere other than the International Center of Photography, but if it does come to a space near you, you should see it.

I saw it for the first time at GEH yesterday, and will return next week, and likely again. This is not because the exhibit is so absorbing or brilliant. It is wonderful, especially as GEH plays classicly Parisian music in the exhibit hall and that creates a wonderful atmosphere that is, for me, transporting.

Rather, I will return because I cannot seem to absorb such an exhibit in one visit. I have observed this each time I have been to GEH. Sometimes the presentation and lighting have been irritating (the recent Weston exhibit was disappointing in some respects), but as a lover of photographs, I can't seem to truly appreciate exhibits, especially large ones in just one visit. It is just too much visual information to process.

Rauschenberg's photos are very well seen and executed. Working to a very high level of craft with modern 35mm materials, each photo is visually precise and evocative.

But the Atget prints ... well, they transported me. Ignoring the 70-80 years of change in Paris between the Atget and Rauschenberg photos, Atget's choice of materials were brilliant. I have never before seen albumen prints, I don't think. Even in Atget's time, wet plates and albumen printing were "outdated", but he refused to use more modern materials. That was a brilliant choice. The long exposure times necessary for the wet plates dictated much of Atget's choices, and the nature of those negatives combined with the tonal scale of albumen makes Atget's Paris glow. Given that much of Atget's intent seemed to preserve a Paris that he saw as passing all too quickly, how fortunate he not only chose as he did, but that the images survive to convey not only the Paris of the period, but the atmosphere, the feeling of a great city emerging as well as passing by.

Yesterday there was to be an exhibit tour conducted in French. Sadly, no one knew anything about the tour, and the tour guide never showed. I was really disappointed; being around French in this town is almost non-existant. But the music and exhibit itself made it all better, and there are tours in French scheduled for additional Saturdays, so I will call tomorrow to make sure it was just a one-time mix-up.

Atget links:

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