Today we’re going to be talking about the famed French photographer, Robert Doisneau.
Born in Paris in 1912, Robert Doisneau is one of the most important figures in the humanist photography movement, as well as one of the pioneers of photojournalism.
Much of Doisneau’s work focuses on the human experience; everyday life for normal people in a period in history mired in conflict. Doisneau was no stranger to the horrors of war that swept across Europe in the first half of the Twentieth Century. His father died in active service during the First World War. This was his first brush with the consequences of war, but would not be his last.
Doisneau served in the French army during WWII, and used his skills to help forge passports and identification papers for the French Resistance to use.
It’s impossible to claim that the two world wars had no impact on Doisneau personally and professionally. Much of his work following WWII focused on the lives of the people of France and wider Europe.
He is quoted as having said that he didn’t “photograph life as it is, but life as I would like it to be.”
Many of Doisneau’s photographs have a certain whimsical charm to them. They show people of all walks of life enjoying themselves, despite the bleakness around them in the wake of the war. Even when photographing more serious subjects, such as policemen, Doisneau would frame his image so that there were joyful aspects to the background.
Perhaps his most famous image was Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville, more commonly known as The Kiss outside of France.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this image, which was used as a symbol for young love and joy in the early 1950’s, is that the exact image was staged. Doisneau had witnessed the couple, Françoise Delbart and Jacques Carteaud, kissing and wanted to capture the image, but he did not want to take the image without their permission. So he approached the couple and requested that they recreate the moment. The couple obliged, and actually kissed for the camera in 2 locations before the Hotel de Ville.
Despite the fabrication of the scene for the image, what was committed to film was a genuine interaction between two lovers, and it in no way lessens the power of the image.
Robert Doisneau remained active in photography until he passed away in 1994, and his work is still shared in collections and exhibits to this day.