Even those of us who are the least experts on photography know Robert Doisneau’s work. As you stroll around Paris, Doisneau’s black-and-white photographs pop up at every street corner, on postcards in souvenir shops, on large-format posters in riverside kiosks, on calendars in libraries… If you look carefully enough, you might even spot a real-life Doisneau moment – one of these “fragments of time when daily life seems to be liberated from gravity”.
Robert Doisneau, born in 1912 in the suburbs of Paris, dedicated his career to immortalizing such moments of post-WWII Paris. “Paris is a theater were one pays for their seat with wasted time.” said Doisneau. However no time was wasted for what became his most famous photograph – the Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville. In 1950, Life magazine commissioned images of “Lovers in Paris”, asking the photographers to hire actors for the job. From a window looking out on the Paris town hall, Doisneau took the shot that would be displayed on calendars and photo book covers for decades to come. He himself did not like the shot much and, in his old age, he often regretted that “all I’ll be leaving behind is this picture.”
Today, the very same Hôtel de Ville featured as a background set for the baiser honors the memory of Doisneau by holding an exhibition on a theme dear to the photographer’s heart: les Halles. Not far from your Hotel Louvre Marsollier, les Halles were the central wholesale marketplace of Paris from 1183 to 1971 – or, as naturalist writer Emile Zola put it, “The Belly of Paris”. For many a veteran Parisian, the closure of les Halles marked the death of the true Paris. Doisneau was one such lover of Paris, and upon hearing that the marketplace would be moved to some dreary suburb, he set upon photographing all he could of the 1960s Halles. It is this testimony of another city – before gentrification and standardization took their toll on the urban landscape – that will be told to you through this exhibition of both black and white and color photographic works.
Go early in the morning to avoid the likely crowds (entrance is free), and after the show, why not cross the rue de Rivoli and go look for yourself what has become of les Halles?