Images of Paris in La Belle Époque

Paris has always captured the imagination with its architectural beauty and interesting inhabitants. La Belle Époque from the late 19th century to the start of World War One is considered a high point of Parisian life, and this life was captured by an eccentric photographer named Eugène Atget.

Atget started taking photographs of Paris in the 1890s. Working in the early hours of the morning with large-format negatives in order to catch as much detail as possible, he photographed many fine old buildings that have since disappeared. He photographed people too, preferring street vendors, shopkeepers, prostitutes, and the homeless. Instead of the rich and famous, he focused on people you’d commonly see on the street in those days, like this little girl singing along to an organ grinder, courtesy the Gilman Paper Company Collection.

Atget continued to work after the war until his death in 1927, documenting a Paris that even then was beginning to disappear. He was a bit of an anachronism, using the same equipment and same techniques he had thirty years before. A photo of him from the 1920s shows him as a shabby, hunched old man. He must have been an object of fun among the Bohemian set, for his looks, mannerisms (in old age he only ate bread, milk, and sugar) and outdated photographic style. The art world never really appreciated him until after his death, but now he’s renowned as one of the most important artists of the era.

Atget’s work is now the subject of a free exhibition at Madrid’s Fundación Mapfre, one of the best private galleries in the city. Eugène Atget, Paris 1898-1924 runs until August 27.