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black and white photo of people sitting in chairs watching something

Robert Doisneau
Le Petit Balcon, 1953
Silver gelatin photograph
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert E. Vore

A pioneer of photojournalism, Robert Doisneau famously photographed the streets of Paris beginning in the 1930s. His artistic practice halted when he was drafted into the French army during World War II, however, serving both as a soldier and documentarian. Although Doisneau only served in the military until 1940, he used his draughtsmanship and printmaking skills to further assist the French Resistance until the war’s end. 

Following the war, Doisneau resumed freelance photography and created some of his most memorable compositions. In 1950, he joined the French humanist photography collective, Le Groupe des XV, exhibiting his work annually until the group’s disbandment in 1957. He also worked as a fashion photographer for Vogue, produced children’s books, and photographed celebrity portraits including those of cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, sculptor Alberto Giacometti, and writer Jean Cocteau. 

Gravitating toward cafes and cabarets, Doisneau was particularly interested in young people and the juxtaposition between their eccentric lifestyles and those of an older, more stately social class. This is demonstrated clearly in Le Petit Balcon (1953), in which Doisneau captures an equally humorous and tense moment between a performer and what appears to be a married couple. To the left of the photograph’s foreground, the young dancer poses with a sense of flirty familiarity, her arm slung over the knee of a bemused and, perhaps, flustered husband. Meanwhile, his wife, modestly dressed and sitting to his right, glances disapprovingly at the resting performer. In the background, other patrons laugh and smile amidst an evening of fun at the club.

Other prints of Doisneau’s photograph are held in museums across the globe, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The copy in DePauw’s collection was donated to the university in 1982 by Dr. and Mrs. Robert E. Vore.

Alyssa Flory, Spring 2023
Klauser fellow