Eugène Atget's Zonier album

Eugène Atget's Zonier album

  • Porte d'Ivry: Ragpicker hut.

    ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

  • Porte d'Italie: zoniers.

    ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

  • Porte d'Italie: zoniers.

    ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

  • Poplars postern: zoners.

    ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

To close

Title: Porte d'Ivry: Ragpicker hut.

Author : ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

Creation date : 1912

Date shown: 1912

Dimensions: Height 22.5 - Width 17.8

Technique and other indications: Positive photograph on albumen paper from gelatinobromide glass negative

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 90-001191 / Pho1990-2

Porte d'Ivry: Ragpicker hut.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Porte d'Italie: zoniers.

Author : ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

Creation date : 1912

Date shown: 1912

Dimensions: Height 21.7 - Width 16.7

Technique and other indications: Positive photograph on albumen paper from gelatinobromide glass negative

Storage location: National museums and domain of Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet web site

Picture reference: 94-057047

Porte d'Italie: zoniers.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

To close

Title: Porte d'Italie: zoniers.

Author : ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

Creation date : 1913

Date shown: 1913

Dimensions: Height 16.9 - Width 21.8

Technique and other indications: Positive photograph on albumen paper from gelatinobromide glass negative

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: RES OA-173C-PET Fol - Atget 398

Porte d'Italie: zoniers.

© Photo National Library of France

To close

Title: Poplars postern: zoners.

Author : ATGET Eugène (1857 - 1927)

Creation date : 1913

Date shown: 1913

Dimensions: Height 17 - Width 21.6

Technique and other indications: Positive photograph on albumen paper from gelatinobromide glass negative

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: RES OA-173C-PET Fol - Atget 430

Poplars postern: zoners.

© Photo National Library of France

Publication date: December 2007

Historical context

The Paris "zone"

Under the double effect of the second industrial revolution and the major works of the Second Empire, the Parisian periphery saw the development of unspoiled urban planning spaces where the poorest lived as best they could. While with the migration towards the city, place of work, arrives in the capital a destitute population, the modernization of Paris pushes the needy outside, in the suburbs.
Slums then appear at the gates of Paris, transforming the bordering sectors into "zones". From this name, is born the name given to the inhabitants of these districts: the "zoniers". Most of them are ragpickers, they make a living from collecting and reselling the city's waste.
Between 1899 and 1913, Atget made numerous photographs of the most disadvantaged and their homes. Initially limited to a few unsanitary sites Intramural - the Butte aux Caille, the Cité Doré - his photographs gradually spread to other cities - the Cité Valmy and the Cité Trébert at Porte d'Asnières - and to the inhabited vacant lots adjacent to the Capital: the Poterne des Peupliers , the door of Montreuil, of Choisy, of Italy, of Ivry. He gathered these images in 1913 in the album Zoniers.

Image Analysis

Live and do with waste

Atget’s photographs bear witness to the precarious conditions and unsanitary environment in which the zoners live. In particular, they describe their habitat with precision: the shots focus on their trailers or their huts built using a composite assembly of recovered materials. The diffused luminosity and the faint shadows of the photographs do not mask the details, making it possible to distinguish the wooden planks, the fabrics, the sheets used to build these rudimentary huts. One of the images even shows the way in which certain dwellings, beyond their basic character, are personalized by means of heterogeneous objects: a facade has as an ornament a small sculpted head and sheets of paper, probably illustrations.
Despite the efforts to recreate a decent home, the promiscuity, the accumulation of waste, the lack of any infrastructure and convenience (water, toilet, evacuation, etc.) make these sites unsanitary. The wide frames chosen by Atget clearly show how the huts, where entire families are crowded, clump together in an anarchic development. They also reveal the piles of rubbish - planks, textiles, barrels, furniture, dishes, scrap metal, pots, rubble and all reusable things - in the midst of which the zoniers live.
These are in fact surrounded by the residues that they collect and which they use to meet most of their needs. They collect whatever they find in the city and bring it back to their homes for resale or personal use. The zoniers transfer these materials against payment to factories specializing in recycling or transform them to then hawk them to the capital. They also keep everything that can be of use to them, their environment, from the home to daily utensils (clothes, furniture, etc.), consisting of objects recovered or made by them. Atget also endeavors to show these aspects of the work of the zoners: he photographs the ragpickers with the carts they use to transport the product of their collection or in the process of making small artefacts. One of the photos shows a man making a kind of stepladder. When they cannot use ready-made items, they make what they lack themselves: basketwork, small furniture, tools or objects that can also be sold.

Interpretation

From the portrait of a population to the portrait of an economy

From Atget's images, the social environment of the zoners can therefore be reconstituted with precision: their places of life are revealed in the smallest details; their livelihoods are accurately described; their mode of existence, based on recovery, is carefully traced. Proceeding with a sort of photographic report, he made a portrait of this marginal population, excluded from the city, and recorded a contemporary phenomenon that few photographers were concerned about.
Indirectly, this album also reveals the complex waste circuit and the importance of recycling at the time. The rag pickers were indeed the emerged part of a highly developed leftover industry at the turn of the 20th century.e century. Factories dealt with the treatment of human excreta and urine, while second-hand foods constituted a veritable regulated market. Industrial establishments specialized in the transformation of waste collected by zoners. Rendering companies were in charge of cutting up the carrion to recover the skin and convert the flesh, fat, muscle and viscera into soap, candles or, by a liquefaction process, into fertilizer. Similar management applied to cork stoppers: undamaged, they were returned to the market as they were; the others were used to make carpets, linoleum, chipboard or floats ...
The collection and sorting of garbage was such an important activity that specific terms designated each type of waste picker: the pests collected on a boat the rubbish carried by the rivers while the junkies operated exclusively on the Seine. Thus, the zoniers, while living on the remains produced by Paris, participated in the economy of the capital.

  • Paris
  • poverty
  • small trades
  • photography
  • town planning
  • city
  • reportage

Bibliography

Alain CORBINMiasma and the Daffodil: Smell and the Social Imagination, 18th – 19th centuryParis, Flammarion, 1986. Guillaume LE GALLAtget, picturesque ParisParis, Editions Hazan, 1998. Gérard NOIRIELWorkers in French society, 19th-20th centuriesParis, editions du Seuil, 1986. Madeleine LEVEAU-FERNANDEZThe Zone and the fortsParis, Le Temps des cerises, 2005.

To cite this article

Claire LE THOMAS, "Eugène Atget's Zonier album"


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