Robert Doisneau (French: [ʁɔbɛʁ dwano]; 14 April 1912 – 1 April 1994) was a French photographer. In the 1930s he made photographs on the streets of Paris. He was a champion of humanist photography and with Henri Cartier-Bresson a pioneer of photojournalism.
Doisneau is renowned for his 1950 image Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street. He was appointed a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour in 1984 by then French president, François Mitterrand.
Born in April 1912 in an upper middle class family, in the Parisian suburbs (Gentilly), Robert Doisneau started showing an immoderate interest in the arts at a very early age. Robert Doisneau lost his parents at an early age and was raised by an unloving aunt. Aged 14, he enroled at the Ecole Estienne a craft school where he graduated in 1929 with diplomas in engraving and lithography. A year later, he started working for « Atelier Ullmann » as a publicity photographer. In 1931, Robert Doisneau met his future wife Pierrette Chaumaison, with whom he will have three children and also started working as an assistant for modernist photographer, André Vigneau. André Vigneau will introduce Robert Doisneau to a « new objectivity in Photography ». In 1932, Robert Doisneau sold his first photographic story to Excelsior magazine. In 1934, car manufacturer Renault hired Robert Doisneau as an industrial photographer in the Boulogne Billancourt factory. He was fired in 1939 as he was consistantly late. Without a job, Robert Doisneau became a freelance photographer trying to earn his living in advertising, engraving and in the postcard industry. Shortly before WWII, Robert Doisneau was hired by Charles Rado, founder of the Rapho Agency. His first photographic report on canoeing in Dordogne was abruptly interrupted by the war declaration. Drafted into the French army as soldier and photographer he was relieved from duty in 1940. Until the end of the war, he used his skills to forge passports and identification papers for the French Resistance.
After the war, Robert Doisneau became a freelance photographer and rejoined with the Rapho agency (1946). It is probably at this time that mutual influence with Jacques-Henri Lartigue found its origin. He started producing numerous photographic stories on various subjects: Parisian news, popular Paris, foreign countries (USSR, United-States…). Some of his stories will be published in prestigious magazines, LIFE, PARIS MATCH, REALITES…
In 1947, Robert Doisneau met Robert Giraud with whom he will have a life long friendship and a fruitful collaboration. Doisneau will publish more than 30 albums such as “La Banlieue de Paris” (The suburbs of Paris, Seghers 1949) with texts written by French Author Blaise Cendrars. From 1948 to 1953, Robert Doisneau also worked for Vogue Magazine as a fashion photographer. It is also at that time that he joined Group XV and participated alongside Rene Jacques, Willy Ronis and Pierre Jahan in promoting photography and its heritage preservation. In 1950, Robert Doisneau created his most recognizable work, le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville for Life magazine. Although Doisneau’s most recognized work dates from the 1950’s and old style magazine interest was declining in Europe in the early 1970’s, Doisneau continued to produce children’s books, advertising photography and celebrity portraits.
His talent as a photographer has been rewarded on numerous occasions:
Kodak prize 1947
Niepce Prize recipient in 1956
In 1960, he held his first solo exhibition in Chicago (Museum of Modern Art)
In 1975 he is the guest of honour of les “Rencontres d’Arles”
Grand prix National de la Photographie 1983
Balzac Prize recipient 1986
In 1991, the Royal Photographic Society awarded Robert Doisneau an Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS)
Robert Doisneau died in 1994, six months after his wife. He is buried alongside her in Raizeux.