Kissing Couple

Behind the camera: Robert Doisneau
Where: Streets of Paris outside the Hotel de Ville
Photo Summary: Françoise Bornet and then boyfriend Jacques Carteaud posing for a kiss
Picture Taken: 1950

Titled “Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville,” or “Kiss at City Hall.” Robert Doisneau’s (pronounced ro-bear dwa-no.) picture has itself come to symbolize spontaneous acts of love and cement that Paris is the city of romance. In late 2000 Paris Match magazine called on young couples to recreate the kiss in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the picture. Doisneau took the snapshot of lust, in 1950, as part of a series on young love in Paris, for LIFE magazine. Over the years millions of copies of the image were sold as posters. One of the women who showed up for the reenactment said she has never really understood why Paris is seen as more romantic than other European cities. “But we must continue to perpetuate the image”

Rebirth

He didn’t want to shatter their dream
Why Robert Doisneau didn’t admit using models

After the picture appeared in the LIFE magazine series it lay forgotten for 31 years until a publisher called Doisneau asking to make a poster of the “Kiss at City Hall” shot. The poster was a huge hit, and soon posters and postcards were sold all over the world. The image brought Doisneau fame but it also brought a lot of headaches too. Since the success of the poster, many couples have come forward claiming to be the couple in the picture. Doisneau was not threatened by the claims, as he knew he had used models to pose for the kiss. In a 1992 interview, Doisneau said: “I would have never dared to photograph people like that. Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate.”

Still, he greeted the claims with gentleness. His daughter Annette Doisneau, who worked as an assistant for Robert, remembers meeting one of the couples with her father. Even though he knew that their claim was false, “He said nothing,” she said. “I asked him why he hadn’t told them the truth. He said he didn’t want to shatter their dream.” Not denying the claims would cost Robert dearly. In 1993 Denise and Jean-Louis Lavergne took him to court claiming that they were the couple in the picture and demanding compensation for taking the picture without their knowledge.

Models come forward

The photo was posed. But the kiss was real
Ms Bornet the women in the shot

The lawsuit forced Robert to admit that the shot wasn’t spontaneous, he had indeed used models for the picture. With this admission, the lawsuit was dismissed. However his legal trouble didn’t end as the model that he used, Françoise Bornet then came forward and sued for a portion of the poster sales. This case too was thrown out when Robert provided evidence that she had been paid for posing in 1950. Françoise Bornet and then-boyfriend Jacques Carteaud posed for the picture after Robert had seen them kissing earlier in a café. Mrs. Bornet a former actress, now in her 70’s has revealed that her and Jacques’ relationship only lasted around 9 months. Even though they are forever linked in the picture as one of the most romantic couples they didn’t stay in touch. “I now think of it as a picture that should never really have existed,” Ms. Bornet said. She added maybe with regret: “The photo was posed. But the kiss was real.”

In 2005 she sold the original print, which bears the photographer’s authentic signature and stamp, that Robert Doisneau had sent her a few days after taking the shot. At the Artcurial Briest-Poulain-Le Fur auction, an unidentified Swiss collector paid 155,000 euros, more than 10 times what it was expected to fetch. A surprised Mrs. Bornet told the French media that she would use the proceeds to set up a film production company with her husband.
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Robert Doisneau


Robert Doisneau became one of Frances most prolific and popular photographers. He is known for his everyday shots of life in France’s cafés and streets. He once said that “The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.” Which is ironic considering that his most famous picture was staged. Critic’s have tried to marginalize his artistic reputation as a “cheerful chappie” who marched around happily taking pictures of whoever passed him by. However, this image has always annoyed those close to him. His daughter, Francine Doisneau, “Nothing could be further from the truth, … If you look closely at his work, you’ll see that the lightness, the carefree touch he strives for, aims to mask his own melancholy.” Doisneau own life was indeed anything but cheerful. Born in Gentilly in the Val-de-Marne, France 1912. He watched his father march off to World War I and then his mother died when he was seven. Raised by an aunt and then stepmother who never showed him the love that his mother did, he eventually trained as an engraver at the Ecole Estienne in Chantilly. However, when he graduated he found that his training was out of date and useless. While working at a pharmaceutical firm he learned photography in the advertising department. He first started taking pictures as a hobbyist but soon he turned pro selling his first photo-story to the Excelsior newspaper in 1932 at the age of 20.

When World War II came around, he was first a member of the French Army and then the Resistance using his skills as an engraver to forge passports and identification papers. After the war, he did some freelance work for a number of international magazines including Life, and Vogue. Through Vogue, he became well known in the high-society fashion circles but Robert Doisneau didn’t go down in the books for his fashion photography but his “street photography”. Some of his favorite pictures were of street urchins and those whom he called “Urban Gallantry” (prostitutes). He used to wander the streets at night trying to capture those on the edge of French society. One of his favorite pictures, taken in 1935, is a near self-portrait of Doisneau as a street kid. A short film about his version of Paris, Le Paris de Robert Doisneau, was made in 1973. Doisneau won the Prix Kodak in 1947, the Prix Niepce in 1956 and was a consultant to Expo ’67, Canada. He died on April Fools’ Day 1994.

More Art Posters

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Mao

Behind the camera: Zhang Zhenshi (1914 – 1992) was a famous effigy painter and outstanding fine art educator in China
Where: China
Photo Summary: A painting of Chairman Mao. The original painting stands 91cm high and 68cm wide
Picture Taken: Was created for the 1950 anniversary, the first anniversary, of the Communists take over of mainland China

The Communist Party of China after taking control of mainland China began at once building a personality cult around the Communist leader, Chairman Mao. His image appeared all over the country but it was this image created on the first anniversary, in 1949, of the Communists take over of mainland China that became the most reproduced image of Mao.

Mao

Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) was a Chinese communist leader who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory against the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) in the Chinese Civil War. The 20-year long civil war technically ended when Mao’s forces captured all of mainland China on which the CPC established the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, in Beijing. The CPC is technically still at war with nationalist forces who retreated to and still remain on the island of Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC). Both Taiwan and mainland China declare that they are the real China.

Mao leadership remains a controversial subject. Many see his rule as a great revolutionary leader who led China from a poor backward nation to world superpower. Critics point to the infamous, Great Leap Forward which killed anywhere from 20 to 70 million Chinese or the Cultural Revolution which greatly disrupted the country, for almost a decade. Officials now don’t know where to stand on Mao’s rule and the official line is that his policies were 70% right and 30% wrong. The book the Evil 100 list Mao as the third most evil person in history behind Hitler and Stalin.

Portrait for Power


Mao Original Zhang Zhenshi

The original painting by Zhang Zhenshi


Over 30 painters were chosen to create portraits of Chairman Mao for the 1950 anniversary of the revolution. One of the painters, Mao’s favorite, was Zhang Zhenshi. Most of the 30 paintings have since been lost or destroyed but Zhang’s image of a solemn Mao dressed in a simple grey tunic was reproduced as a poster that was put up everywhere in China. The model for the giant image of Mao that hangs in Tiananmen Square is based on this image.

The Original

On June 3, 2006, the original painting was set to go on the auction block. The Beijing Huachen Auction Company which stated there would be no location restrictions on the portrait and that the sale would have been open to both Chinese and foreign bidders were forced to cancel the auction after a huge outcry from the Chinese public. Mao is still beloved by many Chinese and they feared that a foreign bidder would take it out of the country. Eventually, a deal was reached with the private Chinese-American owner who agreed to sell the painting to China’s National Museum. The purchase was jointly financed by the museum and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. For the auction, the painting was valued at $120,000 American dollars but the price actually paid was not disclosed.

Other Portraits

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Escaping over the Taedong Bridge

Behind the camera: Max Desfor
Where: A bridge on the Taedong River that runs through the city of Pyongyang, North Korea
Photo Summary: Labelled Flight of Refugees Across Wrecked Bridge in Korea the image shows refugees fleeing the North Koreans over a bridge on the Taedong River
Picture Taken: December 4, 1950

Late 1950 in the Korean War saw the direct entry of China into the Korean War. North Korean forces along with huge numbers of Chinese reinforcements not only broke the United Nations advance but sent them reeling. American forces, who made up the most of the United Nations forces, started the longest retreat in U.S. military history. As UN forces retreated so to did Korean civilians, with thousands fleeing from the advancing communist forces. Near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang AP photographer Max Desfor took this picture on a freezing December day as Korean refugees struggled across the ruined bridge. The image went on to win the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for photography.

Covering Korea

When he heard war had broken out in Korea 36-year-old Max Desfor volunteered at his work in the AP news service to cover the war. His supervisor initially tried to dissuade him from going as he didn’t think the war last two weeks. Desfor persisted and joined United Nations forces as they retreated from the North Koreans in the initial stages of the War. He was free to roam the various army groups and remembers that “embedding was not a term we used in Korea. We were not directed as to whom to go with. We were completely on our own.
He took part in a number of operations and after the hugely successful Inchon landing that forced the North Koreans into retreat, he took part in a parachute jump with the 187th Regimental combat team. “It was just about mid-way from Seoul to Pyongyang when I heard of a parachute jump that was going to take place… it was incredible – what an experience it is to make a parachute jump,” said the photographer. Even though the United Nations had by late 1950 occupied most of North Korea the direct involvement of China into the war changed everything. A string of battles broke the UN advance and they forced to retreat before the combined forces of the Chinese and North Koreans.

Taking the photo

Retreating with United Nations forces Desfor remembers stumbling upon an incredible scene in the freezing weather of December of 1950. In a the book Remembering the Forgotten War Desfor recalls:

I liberated a jeep from someone and joined the retreat. With me were [Tom Lambert (AP) and Homer Bigart(NY Times)] and an army signal corpsman. We crossed the Taedong River on a pontoon bridge that had just been hastily erected by the army engineers … On the south side of the river … [civilians] were walking across where the ice was solid and clogged the river. A little farther upstream, where the water was still open, they were crossing in small boats. As we jeeped farther southward … I saw what had been a sturdy span across the river, obviously recently destroyed by aerial bombs … with Koreans fleeing from the north bank of the Taedong River, crawling through and into and above and onto the broken-down bridge, it was like ants crawling through the girders. They carried what little possessions they had on their heads or strapped to their shoulders, and on the north side I saw thousands more lined up waiting to do the same thing, waiting to crawl and join the rest of them.

Desfor actually had trouble working his camera due to the plummeting temperatures. Falling off the bridge into the freezing river was likely a death sentence yet the thousands of refugees kept streaming across the bridge. Years after the war Desfor was struck by the “deathly silence” of the scene. The reporters continued on their way to what was left of the airport and put his film on the last Air Force Plane. He could have been evacuated with his film but decided to keep reporting the retreat. He did, however, get word to Bill Achatz the photo editor in AP Tokyo to look out for the film. Achatz got the film and transmitted it to the States on December 5, 1950.

Max Desfor

Desfor was born in 1914 and was an Associated Press photographer. He covered the Pacific Theater during World War II and was one of the photographers that photographed the Enola Gay crew when it returned from the Hiroshima Atomic Bombing. He was also able to record the Japanese surrender in 1945. After World War II he covered the Indonesian National Revolution in 1946 and the Indian Pakistan Kashmir War in 1947. In 1950 he returned to America after being stationed with his family in Rome, Italy. When war broke out he volunteered to cover the war taking a number of photos but it was this image that won him a Pulitzer Prize. In 1936 he married Clara Mehl until 1994 when she was taken from him in a horrible car accident. He lived another two decades after his wife’s death, dying himself at his Silver Spring, Maryland home on February 19, 2018, at the age of 104.

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Pictures from other Wars

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