Visit a Bygone Era with Robert Doisneau: The Vogue Years

As a fashion journo, I have always lamented the fact that many sees fashion as an unimportant field of interest. It is so minor that even Google put it as a subset of Arts & Entertainment. Yet, at least 99% of the world’s human population wear clothes!

Even I can be deprecating about fashion at times. When in the course of a day, we get a heated discussion about who was wearing a dress better or whether a handkerchief hemline is chic or not, I always tell everyone in our staff, “We are not trying to solve world hunger. Don’t take these things so seriously.”

Then came, “Robert Doisneau: The Vogue Years.” All a sudden, fashion is important and at the center of everything. It is because the book is not just a collection of photographs. It is pictorial history of an era that has gone by.

A Paris native, Robert Doisneau (1912–1994) was a major twentieth-century photographer. His photographs were published in Life, Paris Match, and Vogue. According to Wikipedia, “in the 1930s he used a Leica on the streets of Paris. He was a champion of humanist photography and with Henri Cartier-Bresson a pioneer of photojournalism.”

From 1948-1952, the golden age of fashion magazines, Doisneau worked in the hallowed halls of Vogue Paris. His work during these years is an intricate balance of images of elegant haute couture and those of everyday life in France’s biggest cities.

Robert Doisneau: The Vogue Years brilliantly collects his best photographs during his time shooting for the magazine. There are little-known images that feature Brigitte Bardot and Bettina, both of whom he photographed in the studio and on the streets.

Doisneau chronicled Paris’s vibrant society icons in their stately homes and at opulent costume balls, and he captured the spirit of the era with images of such luminaries as Karen Blixen, Picasso, Colette, and Jean Cocteau, as well as jazz musicians, writers, dancers, movie stars, and artisans, who shaped modern French culture.

This handsome volume—which features an open spine Swiss binding so that it lays flat to show off the photographs to their best advantage—also illustrates Doisneau’s distinctive humanist approach to his craft as he shot photographs of a post-war country alive with a renewed lust for life: humble craftsmen at work, a petulant child impatient for cake, fishermen showing off their catch on the quay in Marseille, and a wedding procession crossing a footbridge.

A joy to read, it is very easy to admire the photos on their own right. These photos were shot with film and long before the advent of Photoshop. Every nuance of the image is by the photographer. The light and shadow, the sharp contrasts and dreamy silhouettes, those were achieved because Doisneau planned them to be there. Admiring the photos equates to also admiring the photographer.

Thus, it is not surprising that in his FOREWORD, Edmonde Charles-Roux, the legendary Vogue Paris editor-in-chief who also happens to be a personal friend and colleague of Robert Doisneau gave readers a new facet of the elusive man behind the camera, who is as complex and beautiful as the people and places that he immortalized with his images.

If you love to collect books about fashion, Robert Doisneau: The Vogue Yearsone is for you. If high society is your cup of tea, this book is for you. And if you are a historian and wants to see the world through a fashion lens, then this book should be in your collection.

Robert Doisneau: The Vogue Years
By Robert Doisneau
With a foreword by Edmonde Charles-Roux
Flammarion, distributed by Rizzoli New York
Swiss-bound hardcover with fifth-color gold ink / 10” x 12 ¼” /
360 pages / 264 black & white and 4 color photographs
Publication date: September 2017

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