Between 1888 and 1927, Eugène Atget photographed thousands of Paris scenes, cataloguing the city as it grew into the modern era. Christopher Rauschenberg spent a year in the 1990s revisiting many of Atget’s locations to see what had changed. In Rauschenberg’s new book, Paris Changing, each site is mapped so you can follow along in the photographers’ footsteps. Readers who enjoy this gallery and interview may want to take a look at an earlier gallery we ran, New York Changing.
Photographer Christopher Rauschenberg, the son of artist Robert Rauschenberg, is a founding member of the Blue Sky Photographers Collective and Gallery. His work has been exhibited widely. All images appear courtesy of the artist and Princeton Architectural Press. All rights reserved.
Thinking about shooting Paris, what appeals to you first as a photographer?
One of the central characteristics of photography is that it defeats the otherwise unstoppable flow of time. A city like Paris, which also somehow hangs on to the past and holds it, will attract photographers like a magnet—including me. I always used to say the Rome was my favorite city, because it is such a vibrant mixture of ancient and modern. Now that I’ve been to Thailand, I may have to reconsider that choice, but Paris will always be close to the top.
To that question, what do you think Atget would have said?
I think that Atget loved Paris in a very profound way that far exceeds my roving ways (geo-photographically speaking).
Are there locations now in Paris, favorites of yours, that you would have liked to have seen first-hand in Atget’s era?
One of the great things about this project was that I do have the sense of having glimpsed much of Paris in Atget’s era. The big fly in the ointment that I had to work around is the degree to which humans have been displaced from the public space of the city by automobiles.
The one location that I would most like to have seen in Atget’s era is the market, Les Halles, which I love from Atget’s photos but which has been eradicated totally and replaced with a shopping mall.
Were any of Atget’s photos impossible to reshoot?
Yes, many, but on the other hand there were many places that Atget didn’t photograph in his era but which spoke to me strongly of Atget’s eye. There is a section of these at the back of Paris Changing and some more of them on my website.
One of Paris’s greatest attributes is its ability to endure, but sometimes, living here, that feels like a negative thing, a calcifying trait. What do you think?
Paris seems very alive to me. It doesn’t seem like a Disneyland version of itself. One of the wonderful things about a city is that it is such a complex overlay of different realities (including contradictory realities). Atget’s Paris is still there but so are an infinite number of other Parises.
What are you working on now?
I’m in Portugal at the moment, photographing enthusiastically. I’ll be in Morocco by the end of the week. I have a show opening at the Peer Gallery in New York in December which will show some of my most recently completed project, “Daily Life” (which is also on my website).