James Borcoman on the photography of Eugene Atget.
The adventure of seeing in Atget’s work, however, extends beyond its
formal properties to other levels, the most mysterious of which is the
appearance of the "accidental." This word is placed in quotation marks
because the extent to which the photographer is the victim or the
controlling agent is a moot point. The phenomenon of the apparently
accidental incident or of the inclusion within the frame of an
apparently insignificant object has been known to photographers since
the beginning of the medium. Some have delighted in it, others have
deplored it, and the more astute have exploited it. Oliver Wendell
Holmes, American physician, essayist, and poet, recognized the power of
the so-called unintentional in the photograph when, in 1859, he wrote,
"The more evidently accidental their introduction, the more trivial
they are in themselves, the more they take hold of the imagination."
One critic has recently put a name to it – punctum: that which
unexpectedly reaches out and pierces the viewer, thereby giving new
meaning to the image.