Robert Doisneau

It’s Robert Doisneau’s 100th birthday today.  Not that he’ll be celebrating, what with being dead for the last eighteen years.  He mainly specialised in photojournalism and documented the people of Paris, taking some of Paris’ most iconic photographs, including the Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (The Kiss at the Hôtel de Ville)

This photo was staged to some extent, since Doisneau saw the couple kiss, but said later that he would not dare to photograph such a scene surreptitiously.  He then asked the couple [Françoise Delbart and Jacques Carteaud] to kiss again for the photograph.  There was a court case over the copyright which obliged Doisneau to name the people in the photograph.  The bitterness of the court case badly affected Doisneau.  This, coupled with the tragic death of his wife from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, spoiled his last years and his daughter Annette said, “I think it’s fair to say he died of sadness”.

There is currently an exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville of Doisneau’s photograhs of life in Les Halles, the old food market in the centre of Paris.  This market is no longer there, having been relocated to Rungis, to the south of the city, in 1971.  It has been replaced by the very ugly and rather claustrophobic Forum des Halles shopping centre.

Les Halles had been the site of a market since the late 1100’s and was redesigned in the mid-1800s.  The market was used as the background for Emile Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris [The Belly of Paris] which gives a fantastic and vivid description of life around the market and the foods on sale.

The photographs in the exhibition are equally fascinating, Doisneau’s typical photojournalist style of the people and activities.  These are beautifully structured photographs taken quickly and which convey the speed and vibrancy of this “society”, this village of food and commerce, throughout the night and day.

The exhibition runs until April 28th


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