Robert Doisneau, through his unforgettable photographs and his ethnologist’s gaze represents the memory of Paris and its inhabitants.
A parisian wanderer
Robert Doisneau was born in 1912 in Gentilly (Val-de-Marne). At 13, he studied engraver-lithographer at the Estienne school (13th) and entered the workforce by designing pharmaceutical labels. Very early on, he turned to photography. Shy, he prefers to take as subjects the poetry of vacant lots and the innocence of children. It was with the photographer André Vigneau, where he became an operator in 1931, that he learned the basics of his future profession. In 1934, Robert Doisneau joined the Renault factories in Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine) and made industrial shots for five years. Despite his father’s reluctance, he began his career after the war with the Rapho photography agency. He watches for the anecdote and the comical detail From 1946, Doisneau produced numerous reports on the capital.
He watches for the anecdote
Installed in Montrouge (Hauts-de-Seine), place Jules-Ferry, he leaves every morning for the capital, his Rolleiflex around his neck. He then said that Paris “is a theater where you pay for your place with lost time”. At the same time at the heart of the action and at a distance from his subject, he watches for the anecdote, the small daily gesture and the comical detail. The photographer likes to stroll in the district of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and push the door of cafes like Flore (6th), where artists rub shoulders. He thus photographed Simone de Beauvoir writing on a corner of the table at Deux-Magots (6th), but also Camus and Sartre.
A photo for Life magazine
When Doisneau is not working on the spot, he uses staging. Thus, in 1950, he produced Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville, rue de Rivoli (4th), for the American magazine Life, with the help of two extras. “A fisherman of images rather than a hunter”, as he defines himself, Doisneau is a patient man, just like his Fishermen at the Tournelle Bridge (1951). He thus immortalizes the quays of the Seine as far as the Bassin de la Villette (19th), passing by the Saint-Martin canal (10th, 11th). But it is in working-class neighborhoods, where the sweat of work is palpable, that Doisneau prefers to set his gaze and his camera. Les Halles transformed since 1979 into a forum, we only have his pictures left. Between 1953 and 1979, Doisneau got up at 3 a.m. and left Montrouge to go among the dawn workers.
An ethnologist’s gaze
With his ethnologist’s gaze, Robert Doisneau fixes on the negative atmospheres and faces that already belong to another time : the “forts of Les Halles” with bloody aprons, the vendors of the four seasons… Sensitive to the beauty of stones Doisneau is also passionate about the covered passages of Paris. Passages Jouffroy (9th), Prado (10th), Panoramas (2nd)… Sensitive to the beauty of stones, it highlights this iron and glass architecture. He chooses the great moments as a backdrop and photographs the evening which falls on the Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais (8th) under the snow or the Eiffel Tower (7th). Doisneau also likes to rediscover the calm of the Tuileries Garden (1st), the intimacy of Parc Monceau (8th) as well as the silent company of the statues that inhabit them. Whether flesh or stone, Paris is absorbed by Doisneau.