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Robert Doisneau was a popular and
gifted French photographer who worked mainly in Paris from the 1930s up until
the 1990s. The image on the front of
this book, Robert Doisneau, of a couple on a street kissing. Despite looking so spontaneous, that image,
titled "Le Baiser de l'Hotel de Ville," was in fact posed, but most
of his photographs of people in cafes and in the street are very natural and
seem unplanned. In the 1930s, he walked
around the streets of the city, snapping at unusual or typical sights. As documentary, they present an image of a
city as a community, full of strong characters with a sense of style. The photographs taken during the Second
World War show the city under occupation by Germans. They convey not only the struggle of the time, but are also
strikingly dramatic. For example,
"Place Saint-Michel" shows a man in a dirty white shirt and a rifle
slung over his shoulder looking on at an overturned car, burning in the middle
of the street, heavy smoke rising off the flaming tires. After the war, most of Europe was living in
poverty with strict rations, but we again see communal life start up again,
with people in cafes or in wedding processions. The city and country that Doisneau depicts do not belong to the
rich, but rather to the ordinary citizens, whose life is hard. In "Postman and Chiropodist" of
1949, we see seven people sitting outside on the street outside a "Pedicure"
shop. They don't have chairs, but just
sit on the small stone ledges or steps.
At the center of the group is a well-dressed young woman, presumably the
chiropodist, talking to a dapper young man.
It's a charming picture, showing people being friendly together, and
conveys Doisneau's love of his city. In
the 1950s, he became successful and in demand, and he did more portraits of the
rich and famous, but he still also kept ordinary people as his subjects. His pictures of children playing on the
street or at school are especially effective.
The accompanying text by Jean-Claude Gautrand explains that Doisneau
became disenchanted with his beloved Paris as it changed in the 1960s, 1970s
and 1980s, as the new concrete buildings struck him as less beautiful. His pictures from those decades mostly
exclude the new developments, and fit in well with his images from earlier
times. Robert Doisneau is a
nicely produced collection of this important photographer, and these images are
wonderful examples of how photography can capture the mood and culture of a city
and a nation.
© 2003 Christian Perring. All
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy
Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology
Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in
medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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