Photography Book

Atget: Paris (Taschen 25th Anniversary Edition) BY Andreas Krase. edited by Hans-Christian Adam. Taschen. Hardcover, 252 pages. $14.

Atget (2000), certainly one of the best photography books of the past two decades, could also come under the heading of “Most simply conceived book.” After a brief introduction, John Szarkowski (former head of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) presents us with a hundred photographs by Eugène Atget (1857–1927). On each verso page there is a photograph and on the facing page a couple of paragraphs about that picture. It’s a design that complements and emphasizes the essential quiet and stillness of Atget’s world. In both images and writing the simplicity of composition is compatible with endless subtlety of expression and understanding. Szarkowski’s words never intrude on the pictures, never distract our attention from them. But such is the knowledge brought to bear on the images that if we look at a picture, then read the text, and then turn back to the picture, it is as if the photograph had become, in the interval, more fully developed, more completely itself. This is achieved not simply through weight and breadth of knowledge but delicacy and appropriateness of tone and style. Each text is a piece of analysis, a meditation, and a story. Throughout, Atget and Szarkowski engage in a calm dialogue, turning this book into a perfect marriage of two lifetime projects.

Geoff Dyer is the author of Zona (2012) and Another Great Day at Sea (2014, both Pantheon).