The Influence of Atget on Edwin Smith


Edwin Smith’s early imagery was heavily influenced by the great French photographer, Eugene Atget (1857-1927), who from 1898 onwards painstakingly recorded the older Parisian streets and monuments that had survived the nineteenth century ‘improvements’ of Baron Haussmann, but were then freshly threatened by the construction of the Metro. Smith was a proud owner of a collection of Atget’s images, and his delight in visual intricacies and incongruities, together with his ability to discern the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary which remained constant refrains in his photography, owed much to his French forerunner.

Nowhere is this better shown than in his largest corpus of pre-war work, which devoted itself to depicting to popular culture as manifested in the pub, music hall, night club and, above all, the circus and fairground. In contrast to those of Atget however, which were taken on a large format camera with consequently long exposures that prevented the inclusion of people, Smith’s images, captured with his smaller, more spontaneous Contax, dynamically convey the drama of performance and the crowd’s excitement and apprehension. This photograph was taken in the 1940s, in Southend-On-Sea, Essex, and reveals a busy seafront of restaurants, and people, taken from afar.

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