Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Last Saturday, my favorite photographer turned 100 years old.

His birthday was celebrated worldwide. The celebrations were led by Google, sticking a one-day doodle on their main page. Better later than never - let's celebrate too.

You can read Robert Doisneau's biography here, there or elsewhere. He's on the photo above (right). I'll spare you from his omnipresent 'Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville', universally known as 'The Kiss'. I don't want to recite here the story of this charming photograph (many of you already know that the story is far less charming than the picture itself). Here's another "Kiss" - also shot in 1950:

I remember a cold and sunny day in 1986 (or was it 1987?) when I entered a small exhibition pavilion and suddenly found myself in the streets of Paris. And these streets were full of love and compassion, humor and joy. I never heard a word about Doisneau before but I loved his photography from the first sight. He was still alive then, a quiet and modest artist from a Parisian suburb.

Robert Doisneau and Sabine Azema in Arles, 1987. Photo by Jean Dieuzaide

His career started in early 1930s. Young Doisneau left the studio and went out in the streets. He was able to wait hours for a good shot - and, more important, to admit that he missed the best chance of the day. But there was another day, another silent hunt and almost always a great photograph in the end. Like this:

Brothers, 1934

or this:

Revolver, 1935

Since 1934, he was employed by Renault as an 'in-house photographer' responsible for the company's industrial advertising. Here are three promotional shots:

Renault Nervasport Cabriolet, 1934

Renault Vivasport, 1934

Champs Elysees, 1936

He was good in advertising but not good enough to escape being fired for coming to work too late. And he had more interest in people, not in the cars. A short quote:

I’ve made every possible mistake. Because I don’t like to obey orders and I always question what I’m told. So I have to try out everything for myself, and that has lead me into many dead ends.

Daddy's Airplane, 1930s

Then the war broke out. Paris was occupied by the Germans. Doisneau worked for La Résistance(he forged papers, using both his photographer's and engraver's skills). He was in the streets at the time of the Liberation, trying to capture the heroic aspect of the events:

Resistance Fighter at Rest, 1944

... and pointing his camera at romantic couples, probably on the very same day:

Love and Barbed Wire, 1944

Three 'automotive' shots, each one worth a book:

Scrapped car, 1944

Bolides, 1946

Tabou, 1947

The latter drives me crazy - postwar kids in a Jazz Age car! Now a glimpse of the future, bikers are coming:

Motorcyclists, Porte d' Orleans, 1940s

And... who said Jazz Age? Jazz is Paris and Paris is jazz, never mind the decade:

Be-Bop en cave, Saint-Germain-des-Près 1951

and ubiquitous Gardien de la Paix:

Boulevard de Clichy, 1952

and a girl from a bar who's too tired to talk but still trying to keep a smile on her face:

Mademoiselle Anita, 1951

There are other photographs - some famous, some well-known. Dozens of photographs. Even hundreds. Printed and reprinted, glossy and matte, on the pages of heavy hard-cover albums and lightweight thin booklets. You know the picture's worth in words - the rate is 1 : 1000, set by good old Confucius. So, some pin-up by Doisneau for a dessert (sorry, my friends: Ning restrictions don't allow me to post a supposedly NSFW photo here, use the link). And one more quote:

The advantage we have, compared to painters and writers, is that we never lose contact with the rough side of life. It is a lesson in humility and it keeps us from some pitfalls. But above all it nourishes us. Other people’s vitality nourishes us, without their knowledge.

Merci, Monsieur Doisneau! Et - bon anniversaire!

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Comment by Sarah Koldewey on April 16, 2012 at 8:09pm

I've always loved his work, great article, thank you for sharing! 

Comment by Larry on April 16, 2012 at 7:44pm


Comment by Cap'n Tony on April 16, 2012 at 8:44am

Those are breathtaking!  The juxtaposition between the hopeful pre-WW2 images and the tension of the WW2 images and the exhaustion of the post-WW2 images is awe-inspiring.  Great article!

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