Robert Doisneau's Parisian Moments

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Creatures of Dreams Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1952
Creatures of Dreams Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 19522014 Atelier Robert Doisneau, Paris

Tracing the quotidian images and less widely published works of French photographer, Robert Doisneau

Who? “For a photographer, the first 70 years are a bit difficult but after that things get better.” Driven by mischief, Robert Doisneau’s dossier of photographs have been both scrutinised and praised for their storytelling capabilities. Summating a spectacular career, Doisneau is one of the most celebrated exponents of French humanist photography, a movement that swept through the country in the 1940s and 50s. Versed in the laws of photographic communication, Doisneau paired his artistic prowess with an interest in the technical possibilities of photography. “My photographs show the world as I would like it to be,” he wrote in 1986. Through his pragmatic mix of fantasy and real life, Doisneau’s works maintain a central place in modern urban iconography.

What? Doisneau found his most successful works were those that reached no conclusion, left open to the interpretation of the viewer. “It’s a rare luxury to be able to place under the noses of our contemporaries, who are blinded by cinematic images, one of those little treasures that were soon to disappear into the dustbin of time.” A master of narrative and street photography, often Doisneau happened upon his greatest creations in idle moments spent on barren Parisian side streets. For him, Paris was a theatre where “you paid for your seat in wasted time.” Whether capturing images of statues being stored and protected during the Occupation or exploring Saint Germain Des Pres' cellar bars, characters and artists, his images maintain an air of inquisitiveness, creating a unique and soulful portrait of the city.

Why? Compiled by Doisneau’s long time friend, Jean Claude Gautrand, a wonderful new monograph from Taschen allows us to peruse the best of such works, while allowing us to make up our own minds as to their meaning with the aid of key quotations from the photographer himself. Why attempt to rephrase the words of the person whose voice counts the most? Indeed, Parisian joie de vivre – which Doisneau so perfectly captured on film – is best expressed in his own words: “Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that made you smile!”

Robert Doisneau by Jean Claude Gautrand and published by Taschen, is out now.