Robert Doisneau

Robert Doisneau

French, 1912-1994

Robert Doisneau

Most photographers of the past generation have demonstrated unlimited sympathy for the victims of villainous or imperfect societies, but very little sympathy for, or even interested in, those who are afflicted by their own human frailty.

Robert Doisneau is one of the few whose work has demonstrated that even in a time of large terrors, the ancient weaknesses and sweet venial sins of ordinary individuals have survived. On the basis of his pictures one would guess that Doisneau actually likes people, even as they really are.

Robert Doisneau

It has already been pointed out that photographs often appear to mean something quite different from what the event itself would have meant had we been there.

It is conceivable that the gentleman in the picture below is simply telling the girl that he no longer needs her at the shop, due to business being slow. Regardless of historic fact, however, a picture is about what it appears to be about, and this picture is about a potential seduction.

Robert Doisneau

One is tempted to believe that even the painters of the eighteenth century never did the subject so well.

The girl's secret opinion of the proceedings so far is hidden in her splendid self-containment; for the moment she enjoys the security of absolute power. One arm shields her body, her hand touches her glass as tentatively as if it were the first apple. The man for the moment is defenseless and vulnerable; impaled on the hook of his own desire, he has committed all his resources, and no satisfactory line of retreat remains. Worse yet, he is older than he should be, and knows that one way or another the adventure is certain to end badly. To keep this presentiment at bay, he is drinking his wine more rapidly than he should.

Robert Doisneau

The picture however precludes questions of the future. This pair, if less romantically conceived than the lovers on John Keats's urn, are equally safe, here in the picture, from the consequences of real life.

from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski

Robert Doisneau / recommended books
Robert Doisneau 1912-1994 (Icons)

Robert Doisneau is best known for his magical, timeless 35mm street portraits taken in Paris and its suburbs. Fresh, unstaged, and full of poetry and humor, his photographs portray everyday people frozen in time, unwittingly revealing fleeting personal emotions in a public context. Doisneau's gift was the ability to seek out and capture, with humanity and grace, those little epiphanies of everyday Parisian life. This book traces Doisneau's life and career, providing a wonderful introduction to the work of this seminal photographer.


The unprecedented scope of this collection provides the opportunity to study his more composed, aesthetically structured images alongside his snapshots, which offer a more anecdotal account of Doisneau's Paris. Organized thematically, the book leads us on an entrancing tour through the gardens of Paris, along the Seine, and through the crowds of Parisians who define their beloved city. More than 600 photographs-many rare, forgotten, and previously unpublished-are assembled in this beautiful volume to create a unique portrait of Paris.

Doisneau: Portraits of the Artists

This book, which includes some previously unpublished photographs, shares Doisneaufs intimate view on the work and lives of these artists. Many remain famous---Picasso, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Giacometti, Saul Steinberg, Marcel Duchamp, Le Corbusier, Foujita---while others have fallen into obscurity, perhaps one day to be rediscovered.

Robert Doisneau quotes
  • The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.

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