Today by Robert Doisneau, Gabriel Bauret

December 1 Gabriel Bauret He gave a wonderful conference for Camera in Milan Robert Doisneau. Here is the written transcription he did!

Robert Doisneau today

This exhibition is not a retrospective; it does not cover the totality of the work – the amount of preserved negatives, 450,000, gives a measure of the volume of production – but participates in the desire to emphasize the points considered “crucial” – the selected period takes place between the 1930s. Early 1960s -; Like Henri Cartier-Bresson, a friend of Robert Doisneau, he spoke of “decisive moments”. Even if some of the exhibited images are related to commissioned works, it is above all a personal investigation. A free witness of street events, a painter of post-war cityscapes, Doisneau made his mark by getting closer to people; tames them. The exhibition photographer explains this process leading to the arrangement of reality, thus combining staged images with on-site shots: Doisneau is both a fisherman and an orchestrator of the “surrounding” world. He is also looking for happiness. He tries not to convey a message, but primarily to witness the pleasure he gets from sharing happy, funny, light moments among his contemporaries, with whom he feels good and confident. “The world I tried to show was a world where I would feel good, where people would be kind, where I would find the sophistication I wanted to buy. My pictures were proof that this world could exist.” (Comments collected by Frank Horvath in 1990). The last part of the exhibition called “A Certain Idea of ​​Happiness” is an expression of this search.

Robert Doisneau is ultimately a rather paradoxical being. He is a single photographer who responds only to his instincts and personal desires. He likes to walk the suburban streets alone, waiting for the fish to take the bait. Sometimes nothing happens, or an event disrupts a situation that seems interesting to him to take pictures, and he has to give up taking pictures. But in the end, his creativity is filled with the mass of people he is closely interested in, trying to understand their fate, starting from the business world, which he felt very early on. His photography is based on his understanding of the world around him, and the strength of his images is that he has known how to look at it all his life. Just as an architect must draw relentlessly to think about the structure of a building, and a musician must scale to master his instrument, so a photographer must look carefully at his subjects to give an accurate image. Another paradox, if ever there was one: his work is often regarded as a collection of thoughtful images in the register of humor. On closer inspection, as in the Paris suburbs in the post-war period, it also shows an empathy, a sensitivity to disadvantaged social classes living on the edge of wealth, on the edge of poverty.

For Robert Doisneau, as for French photographers of his generation, often described as “humanist”, vision is the engine of creation, involved in the development of constantly renewed projects. In his work, a look associated with walking and curiosity – without this insatiable interest in the direction of people, there is no pleasure in photographing -. He probably means that the world that surrounds him and that he observes is limitless. He never tired of returning to the same places: the suburbs and certain districts of Paris. Other photographers chose to travel, to go to the other side of the world to explore new realities, he is a sedentary person: he constantly returns to the same subject, the same social environment and the same territory. Without urgency; time will do its job. And he’s never been happier than when his schedule allows him to leave his studio on Sundays to roam the streets freely and approach the places and spaces that fascinate him, including bistros. He knows the intoxication there: more than the vapors of alcohol, more than communicating and finding participants in this great theater of mixing words, gestures, music and games.

I love the photo of the little boy on the cover of the exhibition catalog watching the water flow in the gutter. An old photograph with a bold composition, a slightly tilted frame and lines that strongly intersect the image. A piece of writing that resembles the formal study of this period in the 1930s, but which Doisneau would not do much later. He will stick to more stable compositions. That’s why I like this boldness, and I also like this little boy who explores the world and is amazed by what he sees. Doisneau conducted many experiments with children in his early days. He admits that he is a little afraid of adults. He will gradually gain confidence and the street will become his favorite territory, along with the whole community that lives there.

Doisneau really looked for a partner among children very early. He practiced his scales with them to replay scenes they found interesting to get the gesture, meaning and spirit he wanted to convey. He often admits that he did not dare to get too close to people on the street. Children, at least the children he approached in the areas he frequented (Parisian suburbs and working-class districts), were not shy, and since he was a player by nature, they were subjects perfectly suited to his work. experiences. Later, his scenes were regularly organized with friends, family (daughters among others) and even actors. With Robert Doisneau it matters little whether the setting of the scene, the setting of the character or not; nor is it a reportage photograph that might influence the understanding of current events – few photographs of this status exist for him, except for those he took during the liberation of Paris -. Thus, this exhibition combines preconceived photographs, scenes staged from scratch with partners, and images taken from life where the magic of the moment works. The flow of the work shows no difference and this is definitely the art of Doisneau, knowing how to put everything on the same level.

Disobedience means not obeying the demands of fashion and artistic movement. While Doisneau embodies humanist photography along with others, he has always practiced it in his own way. By following his personal impulses. No doubt he was interested in the same humanity as Willy Ronis or Sabine Weiss, but on closer inspection he differed in his approach, the way he tackled subjects, and his personal note, which combined a great sense of kindness and humor. from colleagues. Doisneau always displayed a rebellious spirit, let’s just say that his work was carried out outside the numerous commissions he received for press and advertising. When he was tired of the restrictions, for example when he worked at Renault, he tried to escape. In the context of personal photography, he does not believe in aesthetic schools, groups that go in the same direction. He displayed a great freedom of spirit which he found in poets like Jacques Prévert. There is something very poetic about Doisneau’s captions to many of his photographs. These small, delicately chosen formulas reflect the images, complement the visual message, play with it. And finally, tell a little about their author. In this sense, isn’t the purpose of the exhibition to try to lift a corner of the curtain, to get closer to the person behind the work, to capture fragments of his biography? And thus, taking a step back, to join the words of the photographer himself when he declared: “The photographs that interest me, that I consider successful, are those that do not produce results, that do not tell a story until the end. stay open to allow people to travel a bit with the image, to continue as they wish: a staircase to the dream in a way. (Zoom, No. 34, January 1976). A form of modesty, but also an expression of modernity: the viewer of his images, like the reader of a novel, revives the work, revives the characters that compose it. Our perception of Robert Doisneau’s photographs evolves over time: certainly different in 2023 than they were viewed in the last century.

Gabriel Bauret

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