Today is the 109th birthday of the French photographer Robert Doisneau. His images are known the world over. The world was a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss because he has left.
NAME: Robert Doisneau
BIRTHDATE: APRIL 12, 1912
BIRTH PLACE: Gentilly, Val-de-Marne, Paris
DATE OF DEATH: APRIL 1, 1994
PLACE OF DEATH: Montrouge, Paris
BEST KNOWN FOR: Robert Doisneau was a French photographer. In the 1930s he used a Leica on the streets of Paris. He was a champion of humanist photography and with Henri Cartier-Bresson a pioneer of photojournalism. He is renowned for his 1950 image Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing in the busy streets of Paris.
As a young man Doisneau attended the École Estienne in Paris to learn the crafts involved in the book trade, but he always claimed that the streets of the working class neighbourhood of Gentilly provided his most important schooling. In 1929, in an effort to improve his draftsmanship, he began photographing, just as Modernist ideas were beginning to promote photography as the prime medium for advertising and reportage. Doisneau first worked for the advertising photographer André Vigneau, in whose studio he met artists and writers with avant-garde ideas, and then during the Depression years of the 1930s he worked as an industrial photographer for the Renault car company. During the same period, Doisneau also photographed in the streets and neighbourhoods of Paris, hoping to sell work to the picture magazines, which were expanding their use of photographs as illustration.
The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.
With his career interrupted by World War II and German occupation, Doisneau became a member of the resistance, using his métier to provide forged documents for the underground. In 1945 he recommenced his advertising and magazine work, including fashion photography and reportage for Vogue magazine from 1948 to 1952. His first book of his photographs, La Banlieue de Paris (1949; “The Suburbs of Paris”) was followed by many volumes of photographs of Paris and Parisians.
In the 1950s Doisneau also became active in Group XV, an organization of photographers devoted to improving both the artistry and technical aspects of photography. From then on, he photographed a vast array of people and events, often juxtaposing conformist and maverick elements in images marked by an exquisite sense of humour, by anti-establishment values, and, above all, by his deeply felt humanism.