History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary






1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991


see also:


Chapter 15



Robert Doisneau


The Kiss in Front of City Hall

Love on a March


There is scarcely a photograph of our times that has achieved the popularity of Robert Doisneau's The Kiss in Front of City Hall. The image of a fleeting embrace has become an icon of Paris par excellence. Moreover, as a gripping metaphor of the sense of post-war life, the photograph brought its creator not only fame and wealth.


This time, he dared to come in closer. Usually, however, he kept his distance and tried to remain unnoticed. Robert Doisneau was fond of citing his intrinsic shyness as the reason for his restraint as a photographer. Making necessity a virtue, he had eventually transformed keeping his distance into a pictorial style that applied to the entire social and architectural environment of the city. Doisneau is the photographer of the big picture, so to speak, and is thus the antithesis of a William Klein, who consciously intermingles with the people he photographs, seeking closeness and interaction, letting it be known that he is a photographer, provoking reactions, and thus turning the very act of taking the picture into the theme of the work. But if the French term chasseur d'images - literally, picture hunter - is recognized throughout the world as a description for the action of the photographer, Robert Doisneau always understood himself in contrast as a pecheur d'images, a fisher of images, that is, a photographer who waited patiently until the stream of life cast its more or less rich booty before his feet - a "bystander" (Colin Wester-beck), who lifted discretion to a pinnacle and placed it at the heart of all his work. In this sense, Doisneau has entered the history of photography as the master of the 'candid camera'. Or rather, he would have liked to have been so recognized, if a widely publicized series of international law suits toward the end of his life had not revealed that he - Doisneau himself- had helped set up the events that are depicted in his photographs.
In any case, what is probably his most famous picture, The Kiss in Front of City Hall, was, as we now know, the result of a scene staged with the help of a hired actor and actress. But what does this fact mean for the reception and understanding of a photograph that functions as a 'popular icon' and is one of the most well-known photographic creations of its century?

Doisneau Robert
Kiss by the Hotel de Ville


A staple of every Doisneau retrospective

According to unofficial statistics, The Kiss in Front of City Hall has been sold more than two and a half million times as a postcard alone. In addition, around half a million posters bearing the same motif have found buyers. The picture decorates pillows, handkerchiefs, wall and table calendars, greeting cards, and fold-out picture series. Furthermore, it is a staple of every Doisneau retrospective, and not accidentally adorns the cover of the artist's most important publication to date, Three Seconds from Eternity. Visitors to Paris come across some form or another of this image on almost every street corner. The question arises: why does this comparatively simply constructed and relatively unspectacular photo-graph still fascinate the public today.

At the exact center of the square photograph is a young couple, about twenty years old. Quite frankly, there is nothing at all striking about them. They are decently dressed - appropriately for the street. At most, the bright scarf tucked into the neck of the man's double-breasted suit is the only item lending a bohemian flavor to the Right Bank of the Seine. Approaching from the left, the couple is moseying its way down the busily populated street. The man has placed his right arm around the girl's shoulder. Spontaneously - so the picture suggests - he pulls her toward himself and kisses her on the mouth. None of the other pedestrians visible in the picture seem to have noticed the sudden testimony of love. At most the observer in the foreground witnesses the little scene. The consciously chosen 'over-the-shoulder' shot, to borrow a term from filmmaking, suggests this at least.

Doisneau Robert
The Bouquet of Daffodils


One of those 'undecided' winter days in Paris


Why Robert Doisneau set this scene in the vicinity of the Paris City Hall, we don't know. In reality, the other bank of the Seine - in particular the Latin Quarter inhabited especially by students - stood for carefree happiness after the war: it was no accident that the Netherlander Ed van der Elsken chose the Rive Gauche as the location for his probably most important work in the mid-1950s: A Love Story in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. But Robert Doisneau determined upon the Right Bank. Blurred but clearly recognizable, the neo-baroque Paris City Hall stands in the background of the busy street, which must therefore in fact be the rue de Rivoli. The street cafe from which the picture was taken may well be what is today the Cafe de I'Hotel de Ville, on the corner of rue du Renard and rue de Rivoli. Doisneau shot the picture with his Rolleiflex looking out toward the street from the second row of tables. The woman walking by in the background has noticed him, her glance giving also the photographer a presence in the picture.

In monographs, the photograph has repeatedly appeared under the title "Sunday." But in fact there is no indication in the picture itself that it is Sunday: we simply associate the idea of a stroll through the city with Sun-days and holidays. Doisneau himself dated the photograph March 1950. It must, therefore, have been taken on one of those 'undecided' winter days in Paris: neither cold nor warm, certainly not sunny, but dipped rather in that diffuse light that Doisneau once described as typical of Paris - the light that is part of the perpetual "tender gray tent that the famed sky of the fle-de-France [begins] to unfold at daybreak as one would pull a protective cover over valuable furniture."


Always looking for an eloquent moment


Doisneau's photograph was published for the first time in the legendary illustrated magazine Life. At that time, this son of a petty bourgeois Parisian family was thirty-eight years old. At the Ecole Estienne he had learned the craft of engraving, and afterwards had become acquainted with the innovative tendencies of the New Objectivity movement in photography at the studio of Andre Vigneau. Subsequently Doisneau accepted his first position - admittedly an unsatisfactory one for him - with Renault as an industrial photographer. By 1939 he had been fired for coming to work late once too often. "So there I was on the street again, where everything was happening, I felt very happy, but also slightly worried. Five years in a factory put my initiative to sleep. But asleep or not, material need forced me to make a new beginning."
Doisneau transformed necessity into virtue, and made the street the object of his photographic explorations. It was always the Paris of the simple people who fascinated him, however-the Paris of pensioners and casual workers, of tramps and cabbies, easy women, workers, children, and of landladies peering down the hall. These are the people he sought out, always looking for the eloquent moment in which the human, and all-too-human, was concentrated. Doisneau is the story-teller among the exponents of a so-called photographic humoniste. Whereas Cartier-Bresson followed the Constructivist dictum and composed his photo-graphs down to the last detail, Doisneau sought out the anecdote. His pictures evince wit, but very often there is an irony or even a slight sad-ness hiding behind the humor. He always defended himself against intellectualizing the taking of a picture. His camera art derived from springs of sympathy and feeling, sources which ultimately explain the unparalleled international popularity of his ceuvre.

Fame came late to Doisneau - but then all the more enduringly. In the early 1970s, the market halls were torn down in Paris. For many Parisians, their demise signified not only the passing of a piece of old Paris, but also the end of an entire era: that not-always-carefree, but always hopeful post-war era, in which the metropolis on the Seine once again had advanced to the artistic and intellectual center of the world, before the city irrevocably lost its leading position to New York. It is no accident that precisely at this painful turning point, the work of Robert Doisneau, the core of whose work largely reflected the 1940s and 1950s, underwent a literally unparalleled discovery. His friends had warned him: "Don't waste your time with these photos!" But Doisneau had held out, and in the end, there was almost no other photographer of his generation who could offer such a treasury of pictures from 'better times' than the rather quiet and unassuming Doisneau. Rumor has it that his archives contained no fewer that 400,000 negatives - a visual cosmos from which innumerable never-before-seen photographs of Paris still emerge.


A city of relaxed behavior and sensual pleasure


Under the aegis of this belated acceptance of Doisneau, The Kiss in Front of City Hall embarked on its march of triumph after a small-format premier in Life as one of a total of six black-and-white photographs. The publisher had neither recognized the visual power of the picture nor seen any significance in the name of its creator: the photographer was not in fact mentioned on the double-page spread. The photograph itself was part of a story about Paris as the city of lovers. There, suggested both text and pictures, people might embrace on every street corner without anyone taking notice. Remember: we are still speaking about the 1950s, a markedly prudish era, in which a caress on the open street was hardly the rule. In this context, Life once more borrowed the old cliche of Paris as a city of relaxed behavior and sensual pleasure, an image also current in Holly-wood films of the time. At root, The Kiss in Front of City Hall still functions on this level today: the picture arouses ideas of an undisturbed enjoyment of love a few years after the war. In this sense, the photograph was able to operate in a double sense as an ambassador of a peaceful, yet impetuous, harmonious relationship.


Three kisses at the City Hall, another in the rue de Rivoli, and one more at Place de la Concorde


Doisneau himself continued to maintain an ambivalent attitude toward his famous picture, once even claiming that it represented no photo-graphic achievement. "It's superficial, easy to sell, une image pute, a prostituted picture." All those who bought it, whether as a poster or a puzzle, a shower curtain or a T-shirt, saw it - and still see it - in another light. Throughout his life, Doisneau received enthusiastic letters, including some from people who thought they recognized themselves in the picture. In 1988, however, Denise and jean-Louis Laverne from Ivry near Paris contacted the photographer with a claim of the equivalent of approximately $ 90,000 for lost royalties. The outcome was a much-watched court trial, during which Doisneau admitted that he had staged the picture with paid models. The photograph, according to his argument, had been made under contract with Life for shots of couples kissing in Paris. But for fear of judicial problems, it was decided to use actors. Doisneau seated himself in a cafe near Cours Simon, one of the well-known acting schools, and thus discovered "a very pretty girl...She said okay, and brought her boyfriend with her to the scheduled photographic appointment. We took three kisses at the City Hall, another in the rue de Rivoli, and another at Place de ia Concorde." Denise and Jean-Louis Laverne walked out of the trial empty-handed -but the case had stirred up sufficient dust to rouse those who had actually posed for the picture: Jacques Cartaud, then in his mid-sixties, and the former actress Francoise Bornet, who now sued for 100,000 francs in damages. Her claim was also dismissed, even though she produced as evidence an autographed copy of the picture, which the photographer had given to her as a gift after the session. For his part, Doisneau was able to prove that he had paid the young woman what was normal at the time. He thus seemed to be out of the woods, but his artistry as a photographer had suffered damage in the larger sense. Ever since the affair, people have wondered how many of his pictures of post-war Paris Doisneau had in fact staged. The artist admitted arranging "all of my lovers of 1950" - but protested that he had very carefully observed "how people behave in certain situations," before he created the scene. As paradoxical as it may sound, the discussion over whether the picture was set up or not did very little damage to the incriminated The Kiss in Front of City Hall itself: the image had long since left all concern with documentation behind. The photograph became a symbol - and symbols possess a truth of their own.



Doisneau Robert

(b Gentilly, Val-de-Marne, 14 April 1912; d Paris, 1 April 1994).

French photographer. He attended the Ecole Estienne in Paris (1926–9), where he studied engraving, and after leaving the school he had various jobs designing engraved labels and other items. He found his training of little use, however, and soon began to experiment with photography, teaching himself the techniques. In 1931 he worked as an assistant to the photographer Andrй Vigneau. The following year Doisneau’s series of photographs of a flea market in Paris was published in the periodical Excelsior. His early photographs have many of the features of his mature works: for example the seeming unawareness of the camera shown by the people in Sunday Painter (1932; ) and the comic subject both add to the photograph’s charm, a quality Doisneau valued greatly. In 1934 he obtained a job as an industrial photographer at the Renault factory in Billancourt, Paris, where he was required to take photographs of the factory interior and its machines as well as advertising shots of the finished cars. In the summer of 1939 he was dismissed for being repeatedly late and then worked briefly for the Rapho photographic agency in Paris, producing more photographs of the capital.


The Fallen Horse
Paris, 1942

Bistro at Arcueil

Sunday morning in Arcueil


Down to the Factory

Down to the Factory

Sidelong glance


Kiss by the Hotel de Ville

L'Accordeoniste, rue Mouffetard
Paris, 1951

Square du Vert-Galant


The Fortune Teller



Paris, 1952

Picasso and the loaves


By the railings around the Luxembourg Gardens

Georges Braque a Varengeville
Normandy, 1953

Wanda wiggles her hips


Pipi Pigeon

Musician in the Rain

Fox terrier on the Pont des Arts


Angels and Leeks


Cesar Baldaccini (The Sculptor Cesar in his Workshop)
Paris, 1955

The Cellist

School Kids

Information Scolaire

Barbarian prisoner and Callipygian Venus, Versailles


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