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”
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.
Robert Doisneau became one of Frances’s 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.” This 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’s 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.