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Robert Doisneau

Text from 20th Century Photography, Museum Ludwig Cologne

Originally trained as a lithographer, Robert Doisneau embraced in 1929 a new interest as a self-taught photographer. He regarded photography as the ideal medium for recording life during his wanderings through Paris. His career as a professional photographer began in 1934 at the Renault works in Billancourt, where he was employed until 1939 as an industrial and advertising photographer. Also in 1939 he decided to become an independent photojournalist, but still in that same year the war forced him to give up his dream of becoming a freelance photographer. He served in the French army until 1940, and from then until the end of the war, he worked for the résistance. Even so, he did not entirely interrupt his work as a photographer. Instead, he tried to earn a little money by producing postcards. In 1949, Doisneau signed a contract with the fashion magazine Vogue, for which he worked as a full-time staff photographer until 1952 and from then on as a freelance photographer. Through his activities for Vogue, the photographer became acquainted with high-society circles, for which, however, he did not have as much sympathy as he did for the common people in the streets. He also did not enter the annals of photography as a fashion photographer. What made Doisneau famous was his "street photography". In countless snapshots, he humorously, but not without empathy, documented life in the suburbs of Paris.

This resulted in a number of photographs that have become icons of the French way of life. The most famous example is the Kiss in front of the Palace of City Hall, which has been reproduced by the million, and which more than any other picture became the symbol of young, boisterous love in a big city. As a "street photographer", Doisneau was on the same level as Brassaï, Willy Ronis and Izis, with whom he shared a joint exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1951. Like Brassaï, Doisneau loved to wander through the streets of night-time Paris in order to record the life of marginal society.


 


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