Eugene Atget’s Sacred Spaces: Uncanny Capitalism
After the advent of photography in the late 1830s, the idea that a photograph could be a work of art was far from universally agreed upon. As the twentieth-century approached, a conflicted conceptualization of photography remained in place: could the photograph be a work of art on par with painting, sculpture, and other visual media? Photographer Eugene Atget (French, 1857–1927) did not see himself as an artist. He saw himself as a support for artists, selling his glass-plate photographs to painters for use as templates from which to create art. And yet, Atget extensively photographed a rapidly modernizing Paris, creating a body of images that singularly presents the uncannily stripped city as it leaves behind its medieval origins and becomes modern. In this chapter, I focus on his images of statues at Versailles, Parisian shop windows, and medieval alleys and hotels in Paris, on the verge of destruction, arguing that Atget’s photography is exemplary of the uncanny, that is, photography’s intersection with the erosion of older forms of time and habitation, older concepts of home. I further discuss Atget’s work in relation to F. W. J. Schelling’s mid-nineteenth-century writing on the uncanny.