Robert Doisneau exhibition “From Paris to Palm Springs”
A tale of two cities
Doisneau enjoyed a long career and employed a poetic approach to street photography that recorded French everyday life in often playful and surreal images. He is remembered as always having been charmed by his subjects, and his enjoyment at finding amusing juxtapositions or oddities of human nature.
He is perhaps best remembered for his famous 1950 shot of a couple kissing on the streets of Paris, “Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville” (Kiss by the Town Hall). Along with countryman Henri Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau was a pioneer of photojournalism, capturing unassuming images of street life around Paris.
He once said: “The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”
Doisneau started out by studying engraving and lithography at the École Estienne in Paris to learn the crafts involved in the book trade, but claimed that the streets of the working-class neighbourhood of Gentilly provided his most important schooling. He took up amateur photography at the age of 16 but was reportedly so shy that he started snapping cobblestones before progressing to children and then adults.
After his graduation in 1929 he started photographing professionally, first working for advertising photographer André Vigneau, in whose studio he met artists and writers with avant-garde ideas. He began photographing details of objects in 1930 and sold his first photo-story to the Excelsior newspaper in 1932.
Beginning in 1934 he worked for Renault as an industrial and advertising photographer. When he was fired in 1939, he earned his living through advertising and postcard photography. That year he was hired by the Rapho photo agency where he worked until the onset of World War II. A member of the Resistance both as a soldier and as a photographer, Doisneau also worked for the resistance forging documents. He photographed both the occupation and the liberation of Paris.
In 1945 he started anew with his advertising and magazine work, including fashion photography and reportage for French Vogue from 1948 to 1952. He joined the Alliance photo agency for a short time and began working with Rapho again in 1946.
His first book of photographs, “La Banlieue de Paris” (The Suburbs of Paris, 1949), was followed by more than 20 publications of his photographs, often of Paris and Parisians.
In the 1950s Doisneau became active in Group XV, an organisation of photographers devoted to improving both the artistry and technical aspects of photography. From then on, the street was his arena.
In 1960, Fortune magazine hired the French photographer to reveal the life of an exceptional city that was born in the middle of the Californian desert: Palm Springs. Doisneau accepted the challenge and amid the desert sands, palms and cobalt blue sky, the noisy inhabitants’ flashy attire, the cocktail parties and the golf courses, he created his own personal American dream, not in black and white but in an explosion of colour. These images from the album “Palm Springs 1960” reveal a little-known side of him.
The exhibition “From Paris to Palm Springs” presents some 100 original prints, famous images set alongside ones the public has not seen, chosen for the most part from his atelier and important private collections in France. The extensive selection is further enriched with personal documents and testimonies lovingly collected by his daughter.
Doisneau was in many ways a shy and unassuming man, rather like his photography. He lived in the Paris suburb of Montrouge and died on April 1, 1994 in Broussais, France.
He won the Prix Kodak in 1947 and was awarded the Prix Niepce in 1956. He acted as a consultant to Expo ’67, Canada. A short film, “Le Paris de Robert Doisneau”, was made in 1973. He was appointed Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honour in 1984.
Doisneau has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and the Witkin Gallery in New York.
The opening speech at Mai Manó house is to be delivered by Frédéric Rauser, Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Action, Embassy of France in Hungary, Director of the French Institute of Hungary.
Mai Manó House
1065 Budapest, Nagymező utca 20.
Open Tuesdays-Sundays 12 noon-7pm. Closed Mondays and public holidays.
Visitors should wear a mask and use hand sanitiser.