Robert Doisneau, of Music and America

He “captured the Gallic spirit” like no other. As part of the release of the book Robert Doisneau, Music and an exhibition about the photographer at the Paris Philharmonic, France-Amérique takes a closer look at Robert Doisneau’s photo reports in the United States.

Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville symbolizes the romanticism of Paris during the 1950s. This photo taken by Robert Doisneau for U.S. magazine Life is one of the most famous shots of the last century. It features a couple kissing in the middle of the street, indifferent to the people walking past them.

The photographer, who was one of the French “humanists” most renowned abroad along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, is famed for his snaps of Parisian life including street scenes, children, and wandering members of the bourgeois classes. Armed with his camera, he roamed the French capital and its surrounding areas.


Juliette Gréco, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 1947 © Atelier Robert Doisneau

“The marvels of daily life are so exciting,” he would say. “No film director can stage the unexpected scenes you find in the street.” After his death, he left behind some 450,000 unpublished photos.

An Eye for Music

Until April 28, 2019, the Paris Philharmonic will be presenting a music-themed retrospective of the artist’s work. The selection of photos also features in a book published by Flammarion in the United States this month, entitled Robert Doisneau, Music, and is accompanied by an original text from the artist’s granddaughter Clémentine Deroudille. Aznavour, Brassens, Claude François, Les Rita Mitsouko, and Les Négresses Vertes are just a few of the stars seen posing for portraits or captured on stage, behind the scenes, or in the studio.


Eartha Kitt, Paris, 1950. © Robert Doisneau/Gamma/Rapho

Robert Doisneau was also a jazz fan and spent time in the clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés where he photographed the leading artists of the time. As well as Franco-Romanian musician Django Reinhardt, he also snapped a number of Americans including Bill Coleman, Don Byas, and Mezz Mezzrow. Even violinist Yehudi Menuhin and singer Eartha Kitt couldn’t stay away from his camera.

American Fascination

Musicians were not the only Americans to have inspired Robert Doisneau. Following World War II, he collaborated with Vogue and the New York Times. He traveled to the United States for the first time in 1960. Working for the magazine Fortune, he immortalized the Californian oasis of Palm Springs, the fashionable destination of the time with its palm trees, turquoise pools, brand-new cars, and lush green golf courses. Fascinated by the booming U.S.A., it was here he took his first color photographs.

2 Les Rita Mitsouko 13 octobre 1988; Parc de la Villette, © Atelier Robert Doisneau

Les Rita Mitsouko, Parc de la Villette, Paris, October 13, 1988. © Atelier Robert Doisneau

He returned to America in 1966, then again in 1981 when he showed his photos at the Witkin Gallery in New York and met portraitist Arnold Newman in his studio. Robert Doisneau’s work delighted the Americans, and his work was exhibited as early as 1948 at the Photo League Gallery of New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the MoMA. Even today, according to the New York Times, his “elegant black-and-white photographs seem the perfect embodiment of Gallic wit and romance.”

Exhibition Doisneau and Music, through April 28 at the Cité de la musique – Philharmonie de Paris

Doisneau et la musique by Clémentine Deroudille, Flammarion, 2018.
Doisneau, Music by Clémentine Deroudille, Flammarion, 5 February 2019.