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From the 1880s on, a new generation of photographers began to draw inspiration from movements in painting to undertake new research, inspired by the English photographer Peter Henry Emerson. These artists, who are collectively known as the “Pictorialists”, and include Robert Demachy, Edward Steichen, Clarence H White, and Alvin Langdon Coburn, employed artisan development techniques that were often hybrids, using retouching, rubbing highlights, by comparison with printmaking or watercolour. Gum bichromate and platinum printing appeared to be their favourite techniques. Foggy, smoky atmospheres or fine drizzle, snow and reflections provided their favourite themes with atmospheric blurry effects to which they were conducive. Created by the artist and publisher Alfred Stieglitz, the lavish publication, Camera Work was the showcase for this movement from 1903 to 1917.

It is however, at the margin of this movement that the solitary Eugène Atget created, a singular documentary oeuvre starting in 1898, systematically recording Paris and its environs over about thirty years. The strangeness of his images and the disturbing atmosphere that derives from them, such as in his melancholic and dark variations on the theme of reflections and Water lilies, caused them to be noticed by the Surrealists, and were considered to be masterpieces of photography after Atget’s death in 1927.

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