Robert Doisneau was born in Gentilly in the Val-de-Marne, France. He studied engraving at the Ecole Estienne in Chantilly, but found his training antiquated and useless upon graduation. He learned photography in the advertising department of a pharmaceutical firm. He began photographing details of objects in 1930. He sold his first photo-story to the Excelsior newspaper in 1932. He was a camera assistant to the sculptor Andrei Vigneaux and did military service prior to taking a job as an industrial and advertising photographer for the Renault auto factory at Billancourt in 1934. Fired in 1939, he took up freelance advertising and postcard photography to earn his living.
Robert Doisneau worked for the Rapho photo agency for several months until he was drafted in 1939. He was a member of the Resistance both as a soldier and as a photographer, using his engraving skills to forge passports and identification papers. He photographed the Occupation and Liberation of Paris.
Immediately after the war he returned to freelance work for Life and other leading international magazines. He joined the Alliance photo agency for a short time and has worked for Rapho since 1946. Against his inclinations, Doisneau did high-society and fashion photography for Paris Vogue from 1948 to 1951. In addition to his reportage, he has photographed many French artists including Giacometti, Cocteau, Leger, Braque, and Picasso.
Robert Doisneau won the Prix Kodak in 1947. He was awarded the Prix Niepce in 1956 and acted as a consultant to Expo ’67, Canada. A short film, Le Paris de Robert Doisneau, was made in 1973.
Doisneau has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Bibliotecque Nationale in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and the Witkin Gallery in New York City. A shy and unassuming man, Doisneau lives in the Paris suburb of Montrouge [article written in 1984, before Doisneau’s death].
Text from ‘The Encyclopedia of Photography’ (1984)