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HomeContentsThemes > Street: Classic French examples

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Different countries have artistic styles that reflect national sensitivities and France has had a remarkable group of photographers who have recorded life with humanity and humor - just looking at the photographs one is sucked into other people's lives. Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacques-Henri Lartique have shown all strata of society but they are not the portraits of alienated people passed in the street as Winogrand would take them - no here the photographer captures the rich small intimate moments of people's lives. Photographers such as Brassaï (Translyvanian born) and André Kertész (Hungarian) who adopted France for periods of their lives also reflected this approach.
French street photography
Edouard Boubat
Edouard Boubat: The Monograph 
Edouard Boubat (Photographer); Bernard Boubat (Collaborator); & Genevieve Anhoury (Collaborator)
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Robert Doisneau
Three Seconds of Eternity 
Robert Doisneau; & Robert Stecker (Introduction)
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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Masters of Photography 
Henri Cartier-Bresson
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Willy Ronis
Willy Ronis: La Vie En Passant 
Willy Ronis (Photographer); Sylvia Bohmer (Text); & Matthias Harder (Text)
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These photographers roamed the streets looking for a single moment that would sum up the entireity of an event, emotion or person. Henri Cartier-Bresson came up with the phrase 'the decisive moment' that summed up this quest:
"Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.."
Henri Cartier-Bresson
The French photographers are particularly interesting as they appear to be non-judgmental and are not about changing society but rather about recording it's diversity. It is the very humanity and joy in the images that makes them so universal.
  • Place de l'Europe, Paris - showing a man seemingly levitating as he jumps across over a puddle (1932) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Sunday on the Banks of the Marne - where four well friends, presumably two middle aged couples, have nearly finished their picnic and are relaxing with a drink that is in the process of being poured (1938) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Kiss by the Hotel de Ville - showing a gentle kiss in a busy Paris street (1950) - Robert Doisneau. This last one of more problematic as it was later found to have been staged with models hired by the photographer.
These are timeless images reprinted in the classic histories of photography and hung as posters on the walls of students around the world. Basically they show humanity with humor and warmth. When in 1952 the book The Decisive Moment (Images a La Sauvette) came out with the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson it became apparent that there was a mass market for this type of photography. They were creators of a trend towards a more ironic type of photography that evolved with the optimism and freedoms of the 1950's in the USA and western Europe - this included people like John Deakin (1916-1972) in the UK, or the Swiss-born Robert Frank (1924-) in his book 'The Americans' that was based on the images he took during his 1955 Guggenheim grant.
The French photographs influenced…
John Deakin
A Maverick Eye: The Street Photography of John Deakin 
Robin Muir; & John Deakin
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Robert Frank
The Americans 
Robert Frank; & Jack Kerouac
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