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Doisneau and Music

Exhibition at the Cité de la Musique runs until 28 April 2019.

Robert Doisneau (1912 - 1994) was a prolific photographer involved with the music world.

7 Janvier 2019 - 21:25

"In my ideal school of photography" said Robert Doisneau, there would be a teacher who explained the meaning of flowers and a professor of music. One does not train violinists to become virtuosos, but one should explain the role of music to pupils which would shed a light on past civilizations, it is a very necessary complementary training."

Eartha Kitt, Paris, 1950 © Robert Doisneau-Gamma Rapho
Eartha Kitt, Paris, 1950 © Robert Doisneau-Gamma Rapho

Photo show in Paris at la Villette

What the photographer meant was that unveiling the musical sense of the imaginary in an aspiring photographer would bring him to new heights. 200 black and white prints are spread over six sections in the main body of the show, while it is prolonged by some 20 prints which will remain in the permanent collection of the museum.

The photographer, born in Gentilly, a suburb of Paris, in 1912, who worked his way up the ladder of success, always carried his Rolleiflex camera slung over his shoulder, and literally walked kilometers around the suburbs of Paris, guided by his humanist approach to photography and life in general. Doisneau was first and foremost interested by people in general, those who flocked to bistrots and swayed to music there or on the streets.

The prints are filled with images of musicians or chansonniers suffused by Doisneau's affection for the people he came across. People of his own suburban milieu, artists or otherwise. For instance, his friendship with the Prévert brothers, Pierre the film-maker and Jacques, his brother and poet, inspired him to take many portraits. Many of his most amusing and poetic portraits were undertaken in the company of his life-long friend, the violoncellist Maurice Bequet whom Doisneau endowed with the title "professor of happiness". Doisneau himself used to whistle popular tunes under his breath and never wanted to acknowledge the darker side of life.

Doisneau, who passed away in 1994, not only immortalized lovers and cafe scenes, but also the singers and jazz players of the years between 1945 and 1980, reflecting a "belle époque". Here he portrayed the likes of Juliette Gréco, Charles Aznavour, the Préverts, Georges Brassens, and later the Rita Mitsouko within the framework of jazz, chanson, punk, concert halls like the Kentuckey Club, but never anything from the classical sphere of music.

However, later, Doisneau was commissioned by many weeklies and other publications, to portray modern composers like Pierre Boulez, or others such Pierre Schaeffer, Henri Dutilleux, and even the opera singer Maria Callas. Thus, his palette of portraits increased, with the connection to music, ever-present in the background. He and his friend the violoncellist Maurice Bequet often gave impromptu open air concerts in his atelier in Montrouge. Years later, he published a book with Maurice Bequet entitled "Ballades for Violincelle and Dark Room."

Lucky for his family, and for his curator granddaughter, Doisneau had never ceased to work, leaving behind an archive of 450 000 negatives, well labeled and classified. These also include the photos he took of the singer Jacques Higelin in 1991photographed while Parc de Villette in the background WAS being constructed. This event took place just three years before the impish photographer passed away, mourned by fellow photographs, journalists, magazine editors and close friends such as Sabine Azema.

The photographic over-view of a Paris now slowly receding in our pictorial memories, is accompanied in the museum by the quirky sound of the Franco-American quintet, Moriarty, playing unusual instruments from the collection of the Musée de la Musique. Indeed, even the exhibition space design is signed by Stephen Zimmerli, alias Jim Moriarty.

Cité de la Musique - Philharmonie
221 Avenue Jean Jaurès 75019 Paris

The exhibition runs until 28th April
Tuesday until Friday : 12h - 18h
Saturday : 10h - 20h
Sunday : 10h - 18h

Ticket price of 9 Euros also includes the visit of the Musée de la Musique.
Special prices are also available, Tel. 01 44 84 44 84 for inquiries or at

Doisneau's grand-daughter, curator Clementine Deroudille, published the catalogue of the exhibition :
"Doisneau et la Musique"
with her original text referring to the genesis and links between photographry and music,
illustrated by over 170 photos, paperback edition, Flamarion, 192 pages, ISBN 9782081445840, at 29,90 Euros.

Kunang Helmi-Picard
Fatma Kunang Helmi was born in Yogjakarta, Indonesia. Education in Switzerland, Australia and... En savoir plus sur cet auteur

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