Doisneau, Robert

French (1912-1994)

Robert Doisneau, one of France’s most prolific and celebrated photographers, is known for the playful and often ironic juxtaposition found in his shots of Paris life. Heavily influenced by Kertesz, Atget and Cartier-Bresson, he delighted in placing different social classes of people in the same frame or merging traditional and novel shooting techniques to arrive at something new and different. Despite this cleverness, though, Doisneau’s compassion for humanity is the hallmark of each shot – be it a picture of children playing in the streets of Paris, a couple kissing outside a small hotel, or a country doctor providing health care for the poor.  

Like many of his contemporaries, Doisneau didn’t intend to become a photographer. He studied engraving and life-drawing, but soon found his skills without a market, so he began learning photography for advertising purposes. His earliest jobs were with a pharmaceutical and the Renault car companies; he also captured images for postcards. During WWII, he forged passports as a member of the French Resistance and – shortly thereafter – struck out on his own as a freelance photographer. The rest of his career found him contributing shots to LIFE and Paris Vogue magazines (among others), taking portraits of famous artists and celebrities, and traveling the world. Despite this breadth of experience, though, Doisneau never lost his love of “everyday people” – on the streets, in factories, and in little cafes – and the way his camera could infuse their lives with poetry.