Eugene Atget, Trianon, Versailles, 1923-24
Eugene Atget photographed what he saw. His intention was to earn a living - which he did mainly by selling prints to painters seeking guides to a particular subject or scene - while preserving some record of a Paris that was vanishing before his eyes. In both temperament and intent he was a realist.
Eugene Atget, Fete du Trone, 1904
How might that occur? Is there, perhaps, something in the nature of photography that inclines it to the surreal? Susan Sontag, for one, thought that photography is the only art that is inherently surreal, a quality she located precisely in its capacity for verisimilitude: "Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicate world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision."
Maybe. Certainly dreams inhabit a duplicate world, narrower but more dramatic than waking life. But not all photographs attain that status. Not all photographers would want to. Atget expressed no interest in dreams. Yet there are his pictures, as dreamlike as they could be.