Can this be done with writing? I wondered, walking around the rooms featuring Atget’s works. Is it possible to live a writing life spent only — or mainly — documenting reality? Writing with no agenda to create an alternate reality — which arises out of a dissatisfaction — and with no intention of dissent, but purely to capture the texture of reality around? Can this be done convincingly, while keeping the reader engaged? Can it offer a “unique vision of a period”? Have others done it? Some names came up — E.B.White, Amit Chaudhuri — but even with such writers the act of choosing what to write is itself a statement, perhaps a rejection of other realities. Chaudhuri’s worlds are often self-contained, perfect universes, and E.B.White makes working on a farm seem like the best job in the world.
Atget, then, documented a Paris he wanted to see. He avoided high-society people and photographed commoners on the margins of society: ragpickers, mailmen, wire-basket sellers, bread sellers, couriers, prostitutes. This too was, in a way, an act of rebellion.