Continuing with our series of iconic images and featuring a definitive piece from the body of work of the classic French photographer, Robert Doisneau, would usually involve his work “Le baiser de l’hotel de ville” (A Kiss at the Town Hall) a joyous and iconic image – although I was diasappointed to learn that it was staged – but I feel that that image is upstaged by our featured image. It combines the work of a master craftsman photographer with the mischievous genius of a painter, Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
Doisneau, along with fellow French giant of photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson are credited with pioneering photojournalism that fly on the wall process of documenting and recording the lives of ordinary residents. For both Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson their cast of characters were the post War inhabitants of Paris and its suburbs.
Losing his parents as a youngster he was raised by an aunt. He attended a craft school, École Estienne, graduating in 1929 with diplomas in engraving and lithography. At 16 he picked up a camera for the first time but the shy Doisneau was uncomfortable photographing people.
After a short stay with Atelier Ullman, a graphics studios that provided services to the advertising industry in 1931 he becomes assistant to a photographer, Andre Vigneau selling his first piece to Excelsior magazine in 1932. By 1934 he had found work as a photographer at the Renault factory which ignited his interest in photographing people.
Until the start of World War II he worked for the Rapho photographic agency – with whom he remained for the rest of his working life – but was conscripted and served in the army until the Fall of Paris when he turned his skills to helping the Resistence by forging documents.
After an unhappy spell with Vogue post War, Doisneau retuned to photographing street life as well with the 1950’s being the peak of his career when he was also in demand for taking celebrity portraits.
Our 1952 featured image comes from a session at Picasso’s house at Rue Grands Augustines (Paris, 6th Arrondissment). Picasso was having lunch with painter and author Francoise Gilot the loaves, resembling large hands, were on the table. Picasso, realizing the humour posed with his forearms below the table. Doisneau captured this with the loaves of bread sticking out looking like his hands. This is one of the most popular photos of Picasso and it also shows his sense of humor.