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Robert Doisneau 1912-1994Review - Robert Doisneau 1912-1994
by Jean-Claude Gaufrand
Taschen, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jul 21st 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 30)

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 rights reserved.

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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