, , , , ,

Following my visit to the Willy Ronis exhibition I was encouraged to revisit some of the other ‘humanist’ photographers of the time, such as Robert Doisneau.


Let’s start with a quote from his writings:

In fact there isn’t any recipe – that would be too easy – but all these images that are growing old so gracefully were taken instinctively. I put all my trust in intuition, which contributes so much more than rational thought. This is a commendable approach, because you need courage to be stupid – it’s so rare these days when there are so many intelligent people all over the place who’ve stopped looking because they’re so knowledgeable. Yet that little extra something supplied by the model is precisely a “look,” like a legacy handed down to you from the distant past. It shoots straight along the optical axis and bores right through the photographer, the celluloid, the paper, and the viewer, like a laser beam scorching everything in its path, including, and a very good thing too, your critical faculties.

sidelong glance

Doisneau, Robert
French, 1912-1994

Robert Doisneau was born in Gentilly in the Val-de-Marne, France. He studied engraving at the Ecole Estienne in Chantilly, but found his training antiquated and useless upon graduation. He learned photography in the advertising department of a pharmaceutical firm. He began photographing details of objects in 1930. He sold his first photo-story to the Excelsior newspaper in 1932. He was a camera assistant to the sculptor Andrei Vigneaux and did military service prior to taking a job as an industrial and advertising photographer for the Renault auto factory at Billancourt in 1934. Fired in 1939, he took up freelance advertising and postcard photography to earn his living.

Robert Doisneau worked for the Rapho photo agency for several months until he was drafted in 1939. He was a member of the Resistance both as a soldier and as a photographer, using his engraving skills to forge passports and identification papers. He photographed the Occupation and Liberation of Paris.

Immediately after the war he returned to freelance work for Life and other leading international magazines. He joined the Alliance photo agency for a short time and has worked for Rapho since 1946. Against his inclinations, Doisneau did high-society and fashion photography for Paris Vogue from 1948 to 1951. In addition to his reportage, he has photographed many French artists including Giacometti, Cocteau, Leger, Braque, and Picasso.

Picasso by Doisneau

And anther quote:

I once crossed over the Pont-Neuf with a so-called cultured man. Over to the west a sunbeam lit up the Seine in a magnificent blaze of light. “Oh, look!” Then he grunted: “Pure Marquet!” As soon as a chink appears and he catches a glimpse of something dazzlingly unexpected, what does he do? He plugs it with words. That’s all it does to him. The data have been received inside his head and promptly filed away. No emotion, for heaven’s sake – that would mess up his tidy system and he’d have to sort it all out again. And anyway a bridge really isn’t the place to admire things, that’s what museums are for (just as other people might say, when they see a pair of lovers kissing in the street, “That’s what hotels are for!”).

the kiss at the hotel de ville

Doisneau seemed to have an eye for lovers and kissing…

and more..as well as the sidelong glance..

“Some days the mere fact of seeing feels like perfect happiness. You feel as if you’re floating along. The cops stop the traffic to let you through and you feel so rich you long to share your jubilation with others – you’ve got more than enough for yourself after all. The memory of such moments is my most precious possession. Maybe because there’ve been so few of them.”

school scenes also figure quite often..


and another of his more famous images.

and another great quote.

“A hundredth of a second here, a hundredth of a second there – even if you put them end to end they still only add up to one, two, perhaps three seconds snatched from eternity.”

Like Brassaï, Doisneau loved to wander through the streets of night-time Paris in order to record the life of marginal society..

Robert Doisneau won the Prix Kodak in 1947. He was awarded the Prix Niepce in 1956 and acted as a consultant to Expo ’67, Canada. A short film, Le Paris de Robert Doisneau, was made in 1973.

Let him speak for himself…

and a summary…with atmospheric accordion..


A second post  Robert Doisneau ( 2) – the dignity of workers may interest you if you liked this post.