People standing on a stone road in an urban surroundings. Year is 1907.

Reading time 3 min.

Cover photo by Signe Brander.

Eugène Atget and Signe Brander, urban landscapers not unlike one another

Atget is world-famous for his urban landscape photographs, many of them taken in Paris between 1900-1920. Signe Brander is quite a famous photographer, know for her urban landscape photographs from Helsinki around the same time. Both have a lot of photos that are stunning to watch, detailed visual documents from the time long past. 

Brander got an assignment to document old Helsinki. New era of modernization was going to change the view of the fast growing town. This assignment was first and foremost to document the changing face of the city streets. During the project she also documented a lot of people, in groups, some by profession, a lot of just random pass byers. The people are a strong component of Branders photographs. They make the city scenes to look alive, they lead one's imagination to wonder the cultural history of the time. How were these people living? How did they saw the change of modern Helsinki? Did they look the photographer with her arrangements in amaze? 

Perfect posing

Arrangements were done on a lot of pictures, that is obvious. In many photos, there are individual figures or small groups standing still in good composition. Brander had asked these people to stay on these positions. It might be that in many photos were there are movement happening, that might also be arranged to meet the wishes of the photographer. 

I'm imaging her, in 1910's soundscape, to give orders to random people. Probably a camera was a piece of technology that most of the subjects were familiar: photography as a trade occurred in Helsinki soon after its dawn, being about 60 years old thing already. Photographing on the streets might be quite rare though. 

Commissioned street documentaries

Atget too was shooting the change, the old Paris contradicting the new Paris. Brander has several sweet photos that have an old, wooden building being dwarfed by the new stone block houses all around. In context, that is connecting these two photographers. No wonder, as Atget also had a similar commission from a historical archive collection organization. 

The style of Atget is going to a bit pictoralism or surrealistis side, while Brander was straight, emphasizing perfect light and sharpness. How they handle their subject looks to me to be somewhat similar: loving, observing, delicate but objective. Lovely both! 

Did one influence the other? I'd say almost certainly they had no connection. The photography celebrities at the time were few and both Atget and Brander were not too well-known on their time. It is not known how Brander took up on photography, so it is possible that she would had been abroad in around 1890 to learn from others, but that'd be a bit before Atget took up on urban landscapes.

Find more about Signe Brander and Eugène Atget

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