Robert Doisneau (14 April 1912 – 1 April 1994) was a French photographer. In the 1930s, he made photographs on the streets of Paris. He was a champion of humanist photography and together with Henri Cartier-Bresson a pioneer of photojournalism.
Doisneau is renowned for his 1950 image Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville (The Kiss by the City Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street.
He was appointed a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour in 1984 by then French president, François Mitterrand.
Robert Doisneau, est un photographe humaniste français, né le 14 avril 1912 à Gentilly et mort le 1er avril 1994 à Montrouge.
Il est, aux côtés de Willy Ronis, d'Édouard Boubat, d'Izis, d'Émile Savitry ou d'Albert Monier l'un des principaux représentants du courant de la photographie humaniste française et l’un des photographes les plus populaires du xxe siècle.
Doisneau's father, a plumber, died in active service in World War I when Robert was about four. His mother died when he was seven. He then was raised by an unloving aunt.
At thirteen he enrolled at the École Estienne, a craft school from which he graduated in 1929 with diplomas in engraving and lithography. There he had his first contact with the arts, taking classes in figure drawing and still life.
When he was 16 he took up amateur photography, but was reportedly so shy that he started by photographing cobble-stones before progressing to children and then adults.
At the end of the 1920s Doisneau found work as a draughtsman (lettering artist) in the advertising industry at Atelier Ullmann (Ullmann Studio), a creative graphics studio that specialised in the pharmaceutical industry. Here he took an opportunity to change career by also acting as camera assistant in the studio and then becoming a staff photographer
The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street."
Doisneau was known for his modest, playful, and ironic images of amusing juxtapositions, mingling social classes, and eccentrics in contemporary Paris streets and cafes. Influenced by the work of André Kertész, Eugène Atget, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, he presented a charming vision of human frailty and life as a series of quiet, incongruous moments.
Doisneau's work gives unusual prominence and dignity to children's street culture, such as children at play in the city, unfettered by parents. His work treats their play with seriousness and respect.
In 1931 he left both the studio and advertising, taking a job as an assistant with the modernist photographer André Vigneau.
In 1932, he sold his first photographic story to Excelsior magazine.
In 1934, he began working as an industrial advertising photographer for the Renault car factory at Boulogne-Billancourt. Working at Renault increased Doisneau's interest in working with photography and people.
In 1936 Doisneau married Pierrette Chaumaison whom he had met in 1934 when she was cycling through a village where he was on holiday. They had two daughters, Annette (b. 1942) and Francine (b. 1947).
Five years later in 1939, he was dismissed because he was constantly late. In 1991 he said that the years at the Renault car factory marked "the beginning of his career as a photographer and the end of his youth."
He was forced to try freelance advertising, engraving, and postcard photography to earn his living. At that time the French postcard industry was the largest in Europe, postcards served as greetings cards as well as vacation souvenirs.
In 1939, he was later hired by Charles Rado of the Rapho photographic agency and traveled throughout France in search of picture stories. This is where he took his first professional street photographs.
Doisneau worked at the Rapho agency until the outbreak of World War II, whereupon he was drafted into the French army as both a soldier and photographer. He was in the army until 1940 and from then until the end of the war in 1945 used his draughtsmanship, lettering artistry, and engraving skills to forge passports and identification papers for the French Resistance.
Some of Doisneau's most memorable photographs were taken after the war. He returned to freelance photography and sold photographs to Life and other international magazines. He briefly joined the Alliance Photo Agency but rejoined the Rapho agency in 1946 and remained with them throughout his working life, despite receiving an invitation from Henri Cartier-Bresson to join Magnum Photos.
I don't photograph life as it is, but life as I would like it to be.
His photographs never ridiculed the subjects; thus he refused to photograph women whose heads had been shaved as punishment for sleeping with Germans.
In 1948 he was contracted by Vogue to work as a fashion photographer. The editors believed he would bring a fresh and more casual look for the magazine but Doisneau didn't enjoy photographing beautiful women in elegant surroundings; he preferred street photography. When he could escape from the studio, he photographed ever more in the streets of Paris.
Le Groupe des XV was established in 1946 in Paris to promote photography as art and drawing attention to the preservation of French photographic heritage, and Doisneau joined in 1950 and participated alongside Rene-Jacques, Willy Ronis, and Pierre Jahan. After the group was disbanded he joined the less exclusive and more militant Les 30 x 40, the Club Photographique de Paris.
In 1950 Doisneau created his most recognizable work for Life – Le Baiser de l'hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville), a photograph of a couple kissing in the busy streets of Paris, which became an internationally recognised symbol of young love in Paris.
The identity of the couple remained a mystery until 1992 when a couple who thought they were the protagonists in the photo sued the photographer. Doisneau won the lawsuit after revealing the real identity of the kissing couple.
The couple in Le baiser were Françoise Delbart, 20, and Jacques Carteaud, 23 at the time, both aspiring actors. They posed at the Place de la Concorde, the Rue de Rivoli and finally the Hôtel de Ville. The photograph was published on 12 June 1950, issue of Life.
In the same year, Doisneau gave Françoise an original print of the photograph, bearing Doisneau's signature and stamp, as part of the payment for her "work". In April 2005 she sold the print at auction for €155,000 to an unidentified Swiss collector via the Paris auctioneers Artcurial Briest-Poulain-Le Fur.
The 1950s were Doisneau's peak, but the 1960s were his wilderness years. In the 1970s Europe began to change and editors looked for new reportage that would show the sense of a new social era. All over Europe, the old-style picture magazines were closing as television received the public's attention. Doisneau continued to work, producing children's books, advertising photography, and celebrity portraits including Alberto Giacometti, Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso.
Doisneau worked with writers and poets such as Blaise Cendrars and Jacques Prévert, and he credited Prevert with giving him the confidence to photograph the everyday street scenes that most people simply ignored.
Doisneau was in many ways a shy and humble man, similar to his photography, still delivering his own work at the height of his fame. He chastised his younger daughter Francine for charging an "indecent" daily fee of £2,000 for his work on a beer advertising campaign – he wanted only the rate of an "artisan photographer".
From 1979 until his death, Doisneau's elder daughter Annette
Doisneau's wife Pierrette Chaumaison died in 1993 suffering from Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.
Robert Doisneau died six months later in 1994, having had a triple heart bypass and suffering from acute pancreatitis.
His elder daughter Annette(who worked as his assistant since 1979) said: "We won in the courts (meaning the lawsuit of the photo The Kiss in 1992), but my father was deeply shocked. He discovered a world of lies, and it hurt him. 'The Kiss' ruined the last years of his life. Add that to my mother suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and I think it's fair to say he died of sadness."
He lived in southern Paris (Gentilly, Val-de-Marne, Montrouge, and the 13th arrondissement) throughout his life. He is buried in the cemetery at Raizeux beside his wife.
The photography of Doisneau has had a revival since his death in 1994. Many of his portraits and photographs of Paris from the end of World War II through the 1950s have been turned into calendars and postcards, and have become icons of French life.
Maybe if I were 20, success would change me. But now I'm a dinosaur of photography.
Robert Doisneau est né dans le sud de la banlieue parisienne au sein d'une famille bourgeoise. Il étudie les Arts graphiques à l’École Estienne et obtient son diplôme de graveur et de lithographe en 1929.
En octobre 1929, il entre à l’atelier de Léon Ullmann en tant que dessinateur de lettres. Il y rencontre Lucien Chauffard qui dirige le studio photographique de l’atelier. Celui-ci l’initie à la photographie et l’oriente vers André Vigneau qui, à l’automne 1931, cherchait un assistant et avec lequel il découvre la Nouvelle Objectivité photographique.
La même année il rencontre Pierrette Chaumaison avec qui il se marie trois ans plus tard.
En 1932, il vend son premier reportage photographique, qui est diffusé dans l’Excelsior.
En 1934, Lucien Chauffard, le présente au chef du service photo du constructeur automobile Renault à Boulogne-Billancourt, qui l’embauche comme photographe industriel, mais, du fait de ses retards successifs (et après avoir, de son propre aveu, tenté de truquer ses cartes de pointage), il se fait renvoyer cinq ans plus tard, en 1939.
Toujours grâce à Lucien Chauffard, Doisneau rencontre peu avant le début de la Seconde Guerre mondiale la photographe Ergy Landau qui le présente à Charles Rado, le fondateur de l’agence Rapho. Son premier reportage, sur le canoë en Dordogne, est interrompu par la déclaration de guerre et la mobilisation générale.
Désormais sans emploi, Doisneau tente de devenir photographe illustrateur indépendant. Il sera un des plus prolifique collaborateurs de la revue artistique et littéraire Le Point fondée en 1936 par Pierre Betz et l’éditeur d’art Pierre Braun, pour laquelle il réalise ses premiers portraits de Picasso, Braque, Paul Léautaud.
Après la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Robert Doisneau devient un photographe indépendant en intégrant officiellement, dès 1946, l’agence Rapho.
Il se met alors à produire et à réaliser de nombreux reportages photographiques sur des sujets très divers : l’actualité parisienne, le Paris populaire, des sujets sur la province ou l’étranger (URSS, États-Unis, Yougoslavie, etc.). Certains de ses reportages paraîtront dans des magazines comme Life, Paris Match, Réalités, Point de vue, Regards, etc.
En 1947, Robert Doisneau rejoint le Groupe des XV aux côtés de René-Jacques, de Willy Ronis, de Pierre Jahan. La même année, il rencontre Robert Giraud, chez l'antiquaire Romi, c’est alors le début d'une longue amitié et d'une fructueuse collaboration. Doisneau publiera une trentaine d’albums dont La Banlieue de Paris (Seghers, 1949), avec des textes de Blaise Cendrars.
Il travaillera pour Vogue, de 1948 à 1953 en qualité de collaborateur permanent.
Il est aussi ami de Jacques Yonnet et ses photographies illustrent son fameux Enchantements sur Paris (Denoël, 1954) devenu La ville des maléfices (Biblio).
Le photographe à effectué de nombreuses escapades en Limousin. Durant son enfance en Corrèze, puis lors de séjours à Saint-Céré dans le Lot des années 1930 à 1991.
En passant par le Limousin, Robert Doisneau a saisi avec son Rollefleix des images de la fête de la quintaine de Saint-Léonard en 1951. À Aubusson, il se passionne pour le travail des lissiers. Il exalte la noblesse du travail dans ses clichés des ouvriers porcelainiers des usines Tharaud à Limoges. Il aimait aussi retrouver ses deux complices limousins, le journaliste et écrivain Robert Giraud, et le peintre Jean-Joseph Sanfourche.
Son talent de photographe sera récompensé à diverses reprises : le prix Kodak en 1947, le prix Niépce en 1956.
En 1960, Doisneau monte une exposition au Musée d'art contemporain de Chicago. En 1975, il est l'invité d'honneur du festival des Rencontres d'Arles (France). Une exposition lui y est consacrée.
Il recevra d'autres prix pour son travail : le prix du livre des Rencontres d'Arles pour L'Enfant et la Colombe (1979) et pour Trois secondes d'éternité en 1980, chez Contrejour, le Grand Prix national de la photographie en 1983 et le prix Balzac en 1986.
En 1986, le festival des Rencontres d'Arles présente une exposition intitulée De Vogue à Femmes, Robert Doisneau.
En 1992, Doisneau présente une rétrospective au Modern Art Oxford (en). Ce sera la dernière exposition de ses œuvres organisée de son vivant. En 1994, le festival des Rencontres d'Arles présentait Hommage à Robert Doisneau.
Robert Doisneau est l'un des photographes français les plus connus à l'étranger notamment grâce à des photographies comme Le Baiser de l'hôtel de ville. Ses très nombreuses photographies en noir et blanc des rues de Paris d'après-guerre et de sa banlieue et de photos d'écoliers ont fait sa renommée.
Doisneau est « un passant patient » qui conserve toujours une certaine distance vis-à-vis de ses sujets. Il guette l'anecdote, la petite histoire. Ses photographies sont souvent empreintes d'humour mais également de nos