A young Parisian couple dancing to Bebop in the Bebop Cellar at Vieux Colombier, 1951
“I had fun throughout my lifetime, building my own small theater”
—French photographer Robert Doisneau
When he passed away at the age of 81 in 1994, photographer Robert Doisneau had amassed a collection of 450,000 negatives that captured Parisian and French history throughout his 50-some odd years as a photographer.
Tarot card reader and “occultist”, Madame Arthur, Paris, 1951
A female worker at the “Ouvrière de Renault”, Boulogne Billancourt (the Renault car factory)
At the age of nineteen, Doisneau took a job as an assistant to modernist photographer André Vigneau (who spent much of the early 1930s taking photos of fashion models, surely a dream job for a young, aspiring photographer). In 1934 Doisneau accepted a position as a photographer at the Renault car factory. Due to his habitual lateness to his day job, Doisneau was fired—an event that launched his career as a freelance photographer that would last for nearly his entire life.
One of Robert Doisneau’s many photographs of the gargoyle statues of Notre-Dame
“Le Pendule” (The Pendulum), 1945
“Les potins d’Elsa Maxwell” (American gossip queen, Elsa Maxwell, pictured in the center), 1952
A young Parisian couple dancing at “Au Saint Yves”, Paris, 1948
While Doisneau’s name may not be familiar to you, his photograph “Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall)” is one of the most popular—and romantic—photographic images of the entire 20th century. His famous photos of the gargoyle statues that adorn Notre-Dame (one of which is pictured above) should look familiar, too. Doisneau’s post-war images, taken during the 40s and 50s captured candid moments shared by the collective residents of Paris. From members of high-society at parties, to its vagabond “tramps,” street performers, elegant circus clowns, to passionate Parisian youth dancing to “Bebop” in the clubs of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter.
To say that Doisneau’s photographs are stunning, would be to vastly understate the fact that his images easily rank as one of the greatest contributions to the curation of 20th century French history. Doisneau’s work has been the subject of several books such as, Robert Doisneau, by Jean Claude Gautrand and, Robert Doisneau: A Photographer’s Life, by Peter Hamilton. I’m sure you will enjoy perusing the remarkable images that follow.
“Les Megots” (“Butts). A “tramp” harvesting tobacco from used cigarettes in an alleyway in Paris, 1956
Coco Chanel “Aux Miroirs” (The Mirrors), Paris, 1953
More after the jump…