Thursday, March 15, 2007

Eugene Atget, Walter Benjamin and er, Snow Patrol

Atget was a photographer who from 1898 to 1927 would go out at dawn every day and record Paris. Primarily he used his plates to sell to artist's as reference pieces for their paintings but what he ended up doing was a monument of documentary photography. By the time he stopped around five thousand negatives had been recorded. Most of the images are earily free of people.

Walter Benjamin in his essay the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction says: ' man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to the ritual value. To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.'

So why am I telling you this? Snow Patrol, Northern Irish stadium rocker types and their video for the song Open Your Eyes. When I saw it I thought it reminded me of a film I'd seen made in the seventies and thanks to the magic of YouTube I discovered that it was EXACTLY the same film. It's called C'Etait un Rendezvous by Claude Lelouch and it's just him in a Ferrari (actually a Mercedes dubbed over) racing, criminally, through the deserted streets of Paris to meet his lover outside the Sacre-Coeur and it's like Atget on speed. Now , I'm almost certain Lelouch would have been familiar with Atget but will Snow Patrol have been I wonder? By the sounds of their pleasant yet dreary song inserted over the top I somehow doubt it.

Anyway, atleast it reminded me of Atget's pictures and brought me once again to the marvelous Benjamin. Below are two posts, firstly the Snow Patrol video and then the Lelouch film. I don't think Blogger allows me to post YouTube stuff from blogger so I'm trying to work backward here but you get the picture.

And here is a link to some of Atget's work of Paris next to the same photo taken recently.

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