Robert Doisneau

(1912 - 1994) French


Robert Doisneau was born April 14, 1912 in Gentilly, Val-de-Marne, Paris. He is one of France’s most noted photographers. During his long career, his poetic approach to street photography recorded French everyday life in often playful and surreal images. Always charmed by his subjects, he enjoyed finding amusing juxtapositions or oddities of human nature.
Doisneau initially studied engraving and lithography at the École Estienne in Paris to learn the crafts involved in the book trade, but claimed that the streets of the working class neighborhood of Gentilly provided his most important schooling. When he was sixteen he took up amateur photography but was reportedly so shy that he started photographing cobble-stones before progressing to children and then adults. After his graduation in 1929, he started photographing professionally, first working for advertising photographer André Vigneau, in whose studio he met artists and writers with avant-garde ideas. He began photographing details of objects in 1930, and sold his first photo-story to the Excelsior newspaper in 1932. Beginning in 1934, he worked for Renault as an industrial and advertising photographer. When he was fired in 1939, he earned his living through advertising and postcard photography. That year he was hired by the Rapho photo agency, where he worked until the onset of World War II. A member of the Resistance both as a soldier and as a photographer, Doisneau also worked for the resistance forging documents. He photographed both the occupation and the liberation of Paris. In 1945 he started anew with his advertising and magazine work, including fashion photography and reportage for French Vogue from 1948 to 1952. He joined the Alliance photo agency for a short time and began working with Rapho again in 1946. His first book of photographs, La Banlieue de Paris (“The Suburbs of Paris,”1949); was followed by over twenty publications of his photographs, often of Paris and Parisians. In the 1950s Doisneau became active in Group XV, an organization of photographers devoted to improving both the artistry and technical aspects of photography. From then on, the street was his arena. He photographed a vast span of people and events, often juxtaposing conformist and maverick elements in images marked by an exquisite sense of humor, by anti-establishment values, and, above all, by his deeply felt humanism. Doisneau was in many ways a shy and unassuming man, rather like his photography. He lived in the Paris suburb of Montrouge. He died on April 1, 1994 in Broussais, France.
Doisneau won the Prix Kodak in 1947. He was awarded the Prix Niepce in 1956 and acted as a consultant to Expo '67, Canada. A short film, Le Paris de Robert Doisneau, was made in 1973. He was appointed Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honour in 1984. Doisneau has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and the Witkin Gallery in New York.
Kirsti Svenning
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