Robert Doisneau – A portrait of a photographer

Occasionally, you find yourself introduced to an artist you were unaware of by the most unlikely person. This time it was my dentist with whom I often have the most interesting art history conversations with. This time, I was introduced to a photographer by the name of Doisneau while we were discussing street photography and photojournalism.

Robert Doisneau (French: [ʁɔbɛʁ dwano]; 14 April 1912 – 1 April 1994) was a French photographer. In the 1930s he used a Leica on the streets of Paris. He and Henri Cartier-Bresson were pioneers of photojournalism. He is renowned for his 1950 image, a photograph of a couple kissing in the busy streets of Paris. Doisneau was appointed a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour in 1984.

Le Baiser de l'Hotel de Ville

Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall) by Robert Doisneau

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, in more than twenty books he presented a charming vision of human frailty and life as a series of quiet, incongruous moments.

“The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.” -Robert Doisneau

Doisneau’s work gives unusual prominence and dignity to children’s street culture; returning again and again to the theme of children at play in the city, unfettered by parents. His work treats their play with seriousness and respect. In his honour, and owing to this, there are several Ecole Primaire (primary schools) named after him. An example is at Véretz (Indre-et-Loire).”

-Excerpt from Wikipedia (

Robert Doisneau

Le Muguet du Métro (Marc and Christiane Chevalier in the Paris Metro) by Robert Doisneau


I love the voyeuristic quality of this photograph. Anyone who has ever taken mass transportation, especially in Europe or New York City, has been in the place of the viewer in this image. You are sitting on a bench next to complete strangers. Their lives are occurring as yours is occurring and you happen to glance over and intersect with their lives at this perfect moment. They may or may not acknowledge you.


Le combat du centaure (1888-1900) par Gustave Crauk
Mairie du VIe arrondissement, Paris


The viewers of this work of art are dwarfed. It speaks of the intention of the original artist of this sculpture. It was meant to make humans feel small and inconsequential. Hundred of years later, through a photograph, it is accomplishing the same thing. At the same time, the image is also of the two people, man and woman, viewing the sculpture. They are becoming important to as they are photographed. They are now also a work of art. The viewers are rigid, static. The sculpture is writhing and appears to be moving. There is a play of contrasts here. The figures in the foreground are dark, the sculpture is illuminated. This is a comment on contrasts; large and small, light and dark, static and writhing.


Finally, the looks of both of the women are scathing. Both look angry for having their picture taken. The older woman appears protective over the younger woman; her body language is closed off, defensive. The instrument, an accordion, is held defensively as if armor against the photographer.

“On a peaceful Sunday morning there appeared two women and an accordion. From rue Mouffetard to rue de Flandre, from the wholesale butchers at la Villette to the lads on rue de Lyon, with zigzags along canal Saint-Martin via the cheap eateries on rue Tiquetonne, I couldn’t say how many days the aimless stroll lasted, nor in how many bistros we drank.

Me and my buddy Giraud both fell under the accordion’s spell. That really can happen sometimes. How else can you explain the patience of all those customers, for people normally hate to have their picture taken when they’re eating (unlike drinkers, who pose willingly, often with a touch of bravado). It was the melody that supplied the anesthesia that made the photographer bearable.” – from the notebook of Robert Doisneau


4 responses to “Robert Doisneau – A portrait of a photographer

  1. Pingback: Robert Doisneau – A portrait of a photographer | Long Blues

  2. Pingback: Street Photographers. | Negotiating the City

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