Graham Howe, Curator
As captured by Robert Doisneau, Paris at mid-century was a city filled with uninterrupted performance: a humanist theater, equal parts comedy and melodrama, tragedy and farce. One of France’s most respected and prolific reportage photographers, Doisneau (1912–1994) roamed the boulevards, streets, and banlieues (suburban fringes) of his beloved city, chronicling street life with his camera—an extension of his formidable wit. Doisneau’s photographs rendered a vision of human life as a series of fortuitous and droll juxtapositions, the staged and the real commingling as one.
Doisneau was, of course, not alone in his passion for Paris: Kertész, Atget, and Cartier-Bresson preceded him and exerted great influence on him. Like his peers Brassaï, Willy Ronis, and Izis, with whom he shared a joint exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1951, Doisneau delighted in the exuberance of la rue. Wandering Paris at night, Doisneau recorded the city stripped bare: revelers, beggars, artists, dancers, pub denizens, and young lovers of every social class carousing in shadows; while in the day, capturing ordinary, clothed life: flaneurs, schoolchildren, plein-air painters, animals, butchers, wedding processions, people at work, and at rest. He relished, as well, photographing inhabitants of the suburban outskirts and provinces. Robert Doisneau was born in the Paris banlieue of Gentilly in the Val-de-Marne and studied engraving at the Ecole Estienne in Paris. He learned photography in the advertising department of a pharmaceutical firm. In 1932, he sold his first photo-story to the Excelsior newspaper. His career in earnest began in 1934 at the Renault car factory where he worked as an industrial and advertising photographer. In 1939, Doisneau was drafted and joined the French Resistance, utilizing his engraving skills to forge passports and other “official” documents.
Doisneau photographed the Occupation and Liberation of Paris, and after the war, provided coverage for French and international periodicals: Le Point, Action, Regards, LIFE and Vogue. In 1949, his joyous homage to his roots, La Banlieue de Paris, was published, and subsequently referred to by Doisneau as “his self-portrait.” Scores of his images have endured as testaments to the French way of life. The most well-known example, Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville(Kiss at the Hotel de Ville), 1950 has become, perhaps more than any other picture, an icon of young, boisterous love. Robert Doisneau’s Paris presents 117 images from the photographer’s grand humanist oeuvre, in which the city and its people, both entering a new era, dramatize and improvise the life around them.
NUMBER OF WORKS: 117
TOUR DATES: January 2002 - August 2005