About the Photographer
Robert Doisneau's penchant for catching moments which reveal whole relationships is perhaps most famously rendered in his much-reproduced 1950 photograph Le Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville (Kiss by the Hotel de Ville). Yet, this same gift is just as clear in the slyly comical encounter between a guard and the bearer of balloons in his 1946 photograph Le Garde et les Balloons. The guard's face, turned in sharp attention towards the great bunch of playful balloons that so contrast with the stately gravity of his own uniform, seems to be assessing the danger posed by this helium bouquet, the thin spine of his rifle gleaming like a straight pin ready at an instant to pop the passing threat. The visual push-pull of the dark foreground and the light buildings and sky in the background seems to mimic the tension between guard and balloon-bearer moving in opposite directions. That composition owes as much to Doisneau's private personality as it does to his practiced sensibilities of what a black-and-white street picture should look like; later in his career, Doisneau remarked on early pictures such as this, "My shyness censored me, and I took people only from a distance. As a result, there was space all around them, and this was something I tried to get back to."
Robert Doisneau was born on April 14, 1912 in the Parisian suburb of Gentilly, France. He studied lithography starting in 1925 at École Estienne, Paris, and then letter designing at Atelier Ullmann. Doisneau made his first photographs in 1930. In 1932 he bought his own camera and began photographing Paris and its suburbs, a project that would become his life's work. Doisneau worked for Renault as an industrial and advertising photographer from 1934 to 1939. He was part of the French Army between 1939 and 1940, going on to forge documents for the resistance and making postcards for income during the war. In 1948/9 Doisneau began work for French Vogue, but returned to photojournalism three years later. He has had solo exhibitions at the University of California at Davis; Witkin Gallery, New York; Galerie et Fils, Brussels; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Beijing; Villa Bedicis, Rome; and National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, among other institutions. There have been major retrospectives of Doisneau's work at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Art Institute of Chicago; and George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York. Doisneau died in Paris on April 1, 1994.