Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Art History

Major Professor

Elisabeth Fraser, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Louis Marcus, M.F.A.

Committee Member

Heather Vinson, M.A.


Urbanism, Memory, Paris, Second Empire, Nineteenth Century


This study proposes the existence of lieux de mémoire in the photographs of Eugene Atget (1857-1927). My framework is based on historian Pierre Nora's definition: a lieu de mémoire is an object or idea which has become a symbolic stand-in for a community's memorial heritage. I suggest that Atget's photographs of the streets of old Paris, in concert with an empty-street aesthetic function as lieux de mémoire for their primary audience, antiquarians and professional archivists who specialized in old Paris.

According to Nora's structure, identification of a lieu de mémoire requires first the establishment of a historical tradition. In the first chapter, I characterize a particular mode of photography, what I term a preservation aesthetic. I examine photographs by Louis J.M. Daguerre, Édouard Baldus, Henri Le Secq, and Charles Marville, all produced between 1839 and 1868. I propose interpretations of and reasons for photographs showing vacant Parisian streets, even after technological advancement allowed for representation by other means.

My second chapter is concerned with a disruption of the established tradition, Nora's second requirement for lieu de mémoire. The focus of this chapter is twofold: since I propose that it is the preservation aesthetic partnered with the subject matter of old Paris that forms a lieu de mémoire, considering alterations in both perception of the old city and in photographic practice are necessary. First, I discuss the nostalgic views of old Paris that manifested while Baron Haussmann was remaking Paris between 1853 and 1870. The latter half of the chapter is devoted to the events of 1870-71, the Prussian siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. I argue that barricade photographs from the Commune represent a significant change in photographic practice defined by working-class individuals who made up the Commune.

Finally, I examine Atget's practice and work in context of both a medieval historicist revival in the early Third Republic of France and of a popular belief that architecture could be a literal and metaphoric container for nationalist memories. I conclude with a reconsideration of Atget's preservationist and modernist audiences to support my thesis that his photographs are lieux de mémoire.