The retrospective exhibition on Robert Doisneau held between November 10 and January 8, 2014 at La Térmica Cultural Centre of Málaga, curated by Ann Morine (director of diChrome Photography) and whose premiere was honoured with the presence of Annette Doisneau (daughter of the great French photographer, with whom she worked as an assistant for 15 years) has been a remarkable success with massive attendance of public who has enjoyed the unique chance to be able to watch live a carefully selected assortment of pictures made by
Upper half of the image in real size presiding over the exhibition: Robert Doisneau in 1949 with his Rolleiflex Old Standard 622 (with a 4 elements in 3 groups Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 7,5 cm f/3.5 lens coupled to its Rollei-Sonnenblende metallic shade and featuring a Compur shutter with speeds 1/500 sec - B), a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format camera he had acquired seventeen years before, in 1932, and which he´d keep on using for many decades thanks to its huge reliability and mechanical construction. It is clearly visible that because of its intensive daily handling across all Paris streets and other French cities from early thirties, the black paint on most borders and corners of this exceedingly versatile and optomechanically praiseworthy photographic tool has disappeared, exposing the brass and aluminium with which it is manufactured along with its grainy dark leather covering).
one of the greatest masters in the scope of humane and street photography ever, who left an indelible imprint with the images he created, above all from late forties and fifties and sixties decades in the postwar Paris, a legendary and romantic period already vanished, but which Doisneau immortalized depicting the special atmosphere of those years, turning irrepeteable instants into living graphic documents glaringly transcending their humanist semantics.
Panoramic image of the 50 pictures by Robert Doisneau displayed at the exhibition gallery of La Térmica Center in Málaga, a very well devised cultural space, in which every single important detail has painstakingly been cared, making a major effort that has made it become one of the benchmark sites in Spain within this scope after an elapse of only one year and a half.
The spruceness and nice architectural design of this room has turned the visualization of the black and white photographs of this great Robert Doisneau Retrospective into a real treat for the visitors, who have en masse and day by day attended to this historical exhibition throughout two months.
The large background of the gallery with the title of the exhibition also included the famous picture The Kiss, made by Doisneau next to Paris Town Hall building in 1950.
Doisneau´s photographs leave no one indifferent and raise in the attendees high levels of expectation, musing and a certain deja vu bringing about a touching immersion into the most mythical Paris, likewise outlined by well-known theme songs by singers like Edith Piaf.
They are magic moments masterfully and discreetly captured by Doisneau with his camera. Here an attendee to the exhibition watches the picture Botanic Garden. 1953 in size 31, 5 x 24 cm, while other two ones in the background observe more images.
Chemistry is born in a spontaneous way between the attending public and Doisneu´s pictures oozing outstanding sensitivity and an unutterable ability in the photographer to turn small everyday anecdotes into timeless and meaningful images. Here the glance focuses on L´Enfer (1952), flanked by Les Beux Jeudis (1957) and Le St Louis (1949).
Le Chien à Roulettes (Dog with Wheels). 1977. 42,5 x 30,5 cm.
The work of Robert Doisneau belongs to the post II World War Parisian photographic humanism, often complemented by funny nuances and also embodied by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edouard Boubat, Izis, Willy Ronis, Janine Niépce and Sabine Weiss, without forgetting the deep influence exerted on him by Eugene Atget and André Kertész (of whom he was a great friend), and aside from his uncommon stature as a narrator of street stories, he excelled in his ability to unveil hidden sides of reality in an instant, photographing all kind of peoples and environments which spurred his interest for whatever reason, most times becoming spellbound with French dwellers.
He was likewise a lover of photographic laboratory, developing many of his own negatives in darkroom and doing by himself a number of his own copies on black and white photographic paper.
Doisneau lived photography with huge intensity and passion, mastering every stage of production until getting the final image he pined after.
In the same way as happened with Alfred Eisenstaedt, Robert Capa, René Burri, Dmitri Kessel and other great photographers, Pablo Picasso´s fairly strong personality fascinated Robert Doisneau, who photographed him different times, being Les Petits Pains de Picasso (The Small Breads of Picasso) his most representative image of the genius born in Málaga (Spain). This photograph was one of the most appreciated by the numerous attending audiences, generating high doses of meditation and introspection during abundant seconds of attentive gaze.
Les Tabliers de la rue de Rivoli (The Pinafores at de Rívoli Street). 1978. 39 x 27 cm. The street photography of children was another of the fields in which Robert Doisneau excelled, as in this picture in which he captured a group of school boys and girls crossing a stretch of urban road grabbing each other and in the middle of hubbub, while the cars in the background wait for the traffic light to open for vehicles.
Doisneau was never in a hurry and didn´t consider himself an image hunter but a fisher of them sporting a great patience until a fleeting and defining instant came into being and enabled him to create black and white art within the frame of daily visual contexts.
Doisneau´s photographs make up a unique merging of agile and dynamic photojournalism (capturing images of daily life showing the beauty of Paris and other cities of France and the charm of their inhabitants) and other pictures dominated by aesthetically cared compositions conceptually linked to artistic b & w photography, it all being infused with poetic nuances, to such an extent that the way of getting pictures of the French master manages to steadily enthrall everyone watching his works.
Here the look aims at The Dog of the Bridge of the Arts (1953) 36 x 31,5 cm, surrounded on its left by Au Boi Coin, quai du Port, Saint-Denis (1945) and by Jacques Prévert at the Table (1955), 26,5 x 30 cm on its right.
In the background can be seen part of the access door to the little cinema room where it was continuously projected the documentary film Robert Doisneau Tout Simplement, directed by Patrick Jeudy, which was highly cherished by the attending public.
Two excellent and lavishly illustrated books on the photographic oeuvre of the brilliant French artist: Doisneau Paris (in the foreground, on the left, launched into market on October 26 2010 by Flammarion editorial, featuring 400 pages and a thorough selection of images made by his daughters Francine and Annette) and Robert Doisneau (in the background, on the right, with 144 pages and edited by Lunwerg in its Photo Poche Collection on September 1, 2009) were located on a stone base by the entrance door to the exhibition and were often browsed by the visitors.
The presence of young people who attended to the exhibition gallery of La Térmica to savor the Robert Doisneau Retrospective on the spot was rather bountiful. Here we can see two of them beholding a further famous picture made by the French photojournalist: La Meute (The Pack of Hounds), 1969. 28,5 x 40 cm.
Another very representative photograph by Robert Doisneau: Café Noir et Blanc (Café Black and White). 1948 30 x 32 cm, in whose center appear three persons (a just married couple and a man behind them who is talking to the waitress) smartly dressed and enjoying the moment, while on far left of the image is a coal worker wearing a beret on his head, pensive, apparently frazzled and whose hands and face are very soiled.
Doisneau always paid attention to these contrasts of social classes, and albeit he worked with the most important illustrated magazines of the time like Life, photographed many famous personalities like Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Orson Welles, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Prevert, Jacques Cocteau, Le Corbusier, Jean Maris, George Braque, Fernand Leger, etc, and collaborated in an active way with Vogue Paris magazine between 1948 and 1951 making plenty of fashion and high society reportages, the photography of ordinary people (both on a daily basis indefatigably tramping through the streets of Paris and other French cities and penetrating into the night life of the French capital, entering alternative art premises, cafés, cabarets and jazz clubs) was always the sphere with which Doisneau felt more identified and at ease, the one he opted for and to which vast majority of his pictures yield belongs to, having worked with the prestigious French photographic agency Rapho since 1939.
Besides being a great photographer, Doisneau was a man featuring tremendous patience and perseverance, with an innate gift for mixing among the anonimous people in the streets, going unnoticed and photographing every day contexts which he turn into a Cosmos with its own identity, whose core is Paris and in which theoretically common situations gain the status of extraordinary events, something stunningly steadfast throughout his professional career spanning 64 years.
Robert Doisneau had a very deep knowledge on the French capital, its neighbourhoods, its streets, its nooks and its inhabitants, and was always regarding the Seine city what Ara Güler to Istanbul, Erich Lessing to Vienna or René Burri to Brasilia.
The images made by the great French photographer manage to once and again touch the observers, conveying them strong emotions. Here are two other young visitors keeping their eyes on the work Coco (1953) in which appear three alcoholic old men drinking, but whom Doisneau captures with conspicuous discretion and respect.
Just on its left appears another of his iconic photographs: Mademoiselle Anita. 1951.
Robert Doisneau has been one of the most distinguished specialists of the whole history of photojournalism in the photojournalistic use of medium format, with his 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 Rolleiflex which he used looking through the folding focusing hood featuring a waist level viewfinder and a built-in flip up magnifier, with all feasible heedfulness and humbleness.
Au Bon Coin, quai du Port, Saint-Denis (Au Bon Coin, harbour dock, Saint-Denis). 1955. A very beautiful image corresponding to the percentage of black and white photographic art fulfilled by Robert Doisneau, who makes a proficient use of both the composition and diagonals described by the cobblestone floor being wet because of the rain and the depth of field, with sharpness areas progressively decreasing from the center up to the lower border of the image, whose focus is put on the building in the background and the man clad in a black colour garment walking by it grabbing a bucket on his left hand, while the plentiful depth of field wisely generated from the central zone of the image up to the background has enabled to get great sharpness in the houses and pavement on the right and even in the metallic bannister on the left, as well as depicting in a fairly faithful way the atmosphere and climatic conditions of the moment.
It must be underlined the fact that though the used black and white film renders abundant visible grain, the great acutance of the chemical emulsion and the developer optimized for it catalyze an excellent vusual perception of sharpness along with a superb vintage aestehtics of image on photographic paper.
Doisneau had a solid artistic background learnt from his teacher the sculptor, painter and photographer André Vigneau, with whom he began working in 1931, and that guided him in the domain of artistic, industrial and publicitity photography, although his bigger interest in human beings photography made him specially choose from thirties the street reportage of people, particularly in the cities of Paris and Gentilly, learning in a self-taught way through his previous experience in studio and the deep reading of the specs of b & w films boxes and their development times.
Here we can see from left to right: Gymnastique Sauvage (Wild Gymnastics). 1935, 25 x 30 cm. Les Lilas de Ménilmontant (The Liles of Ménilmontant). 1956. 24,5 x 28 cm and Les Freres, Rue du Docteur Lecène (The Brothers, Doctor Lecène Street). 1934. 24, 5 x 28,5 cm.
Throughout his entire career path as a professional photographer Doisneau conferred a leading role to the photography of children playing and making all kind of pranks in the street and at school, alien to the domestic environment, dignifying it and tackling it with tons of respect and sensitivity.
Instant in which one of the attendees to the retrospective exhibition reads thoroughly the book Doisneau Paris edited by Flammarion. In the background can be seen an explanatory text with the main data regarding the biography of the French photographer.
It was undoubtedly a very well organized exhibition.
La Derniere Valse du 14 Juillet (The Last Vals on July 14). 1949. 34 x 39 cm.
Robert Doisneau lived the 24 hours of the day for the photography , as is proved by this image of a couple dancing late in the night of July 14, 1949, taken by the photojournalist while being on the brink of exhaustion, after a hard journey getting pictures of people all over Paris during the celebration of July 14 Party in the French capital.
The retrospective exhibition on Robert Doisneau at La Térmica has allowed the attendants to apprize one by one the 50 pictures singled out among the vast production (more than 450,000 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format and 35 mm format negatives) of one of the most influent photographers of all time.
Two visitors sitting inside the built-in small cinema room of the exhibition gallery of the La Térmica Cultural Center watching the 67 minutes duration documentary film made in 2001 Robert Doisneau, Simply Doisneau, directed by Patrick Jeude and produced by Point du Jour, Agence Rapho 2000.
Seeing projected on a screen in large size and top-notch quality a number of iconic images in black and white like Mademoiselle Doisneau (photographed by Doisneau within La Boule Rouge cabaret located in the rue de lappe of Paris in October 1951) enhanced by vintage music was a brand and unforgettable experience.
The magic of Doisneau´s black and white photography reached very high peaks with his images of children made inside primary education schools of the time, capturing all kinds of defining moments, like this one in 1956, in which the maestro susprises an utterly concentrated boy in the middle of an exam (though the picture appears on the screen with a vertical aspect ratio 2:3, the original negative is square).
Once more, the control of depth of field by the photographer with his 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format Rolleiflex camera is exceptional, placing the focus on the nearest boy and selecting a f/5.6 diaphragm aperture standing out the main subject and leaving progressively out of focus the three teammates behind him, but with enough level of detail for his contours to be clearly perceived.
You could almost feel the stress of the moment and the sepulchral silence of the classroom 58 years later, thanks to Robert Doisneau´s indescribable ability to fix in time the instants he photographed, turning them into evarlasting images.
Nevertheless, since mid fifties Doisneau also used 35 mm format cameras like the Leica IIIc, Leica M3, a Praktika FX, some Nikons F and a Leica R4.
But from a global standpoint, Robert Doisneau´s photographic yield has as axle normal persons belonging to the common people, to the everyday life in the streets and all kind of daylight and night premises of his beloved Paris and other French cities, who became throughout decades the biotope of this exceptional photographer who devoted himself wholeheartedly to his work, aware that he was portraying a period and habits which would gradually vanish and fade into time, though eventually, the magic of this humanist and his immense photojournalistic and artistic legacy do rescue for any observer, already in the XXI Century, those wonderful instants and milieus he masterfully photographed with his cameras.
© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza