In the pictures of '' Modern Times,'' conversely, the subjects are of the 20th century but Atget's way of seeing them seems of an earlier age.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the images that contain automobiles.
His apparent awareness of the frame, his ability to compose on the basis of black-and-white tonalities, his ready acceptance of the oddities of lenticular perspective, of juxtaposition and reflection - all serve as evidence that Atget was not a na"if who stumbled accidentally on a new way of using the camera but, in Mr.
Szarkowski's words, ''a conscious artist.'' So we would appear to have a choice between looking on Atget as an exemplary documentary photographer and seeing him as a formally innovative artistic genius.
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The date that Atget first allowed them to cross the threshold of his view camera has not been fixed with certainty, but it is clear that he avoided horseless carriages as long as possible.
When they do appear, as in a 1922 image of the Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle, their presence comes as a shock.
What it means to call Atget a Modernist is a vastly complicated subject - especially so since the photographer's chief enthusiast in recent times, John Szarkowski, the museum's director of photography, has gone on record saying that photography by nature is a modern art.
But in essence it suggests that the photographer knew what he was doing.