Doisneau, Robert

▪ 1995

      French photographer (b. April 14, 1912, Gentilly, near Paris, France—d. April 1, 1994, Paris), immortalized the spirit of post-World War II Paris through black-and-white photographs that captured the romance, humour, and poignancy embodied in the lives of ordinary people caught in the act of doing ordinary things. Although he was eventually forced to reveal that one of his best-known pictures—a couple kissing in a crowded street—was staged with paid models, Doisneau created candid images that conveyed the spontaneity and absurdity of everyday life to "show the world as I would like it to be at all times." After studying lithography and engraving at the École Estienne in Paris, he laboured as a photographer's assistant and worked in the advertising department of the Renault automobile factory (1934-39). During the German occupation he fought with the French army and put his skills to use forging papers for the Resistance. After the war he earned a living as a fashion photographer for Vogue magazine, a portraitist of Parisian artists and intellectuals, and a commercial photographer, but he continued to work as a freelance photojournalist, wandering the streets of Paris on a daily basis taking pictures that appeared in the pages of Life and other international publications. Doisneau's images, which were first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1951, were later exhibited throughout the U.S. and France and were collected into numerous books.

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▪ French photographer
born April 14, 1912, Gentilly, France
died April 1, 1994, Broussais

      French photographer noted for his poetic approach to street photography.

      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.

      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.

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Universalium. 2010.

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