32 Robert Doisneau Quotes: The Theatre of Life

Looking for the best Robert Doisneau quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Robert Doisneau was a pioneering street photographer, who is best known for masterfully photographing scenes from everyday life on the streets of Paris. His work captured the beauty and absurdity of life and provides a remarkable portrait of Paris in the twentieth century.

Below we’ve listed 32 quotes from the master photographer to inspire, motivate and help your photography to the next level.

Robert Doisneau Quotes

The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.

There are days when the simple act of seeing appears to be true happiness.

A photographer who made a picture from a splendid moment, an accidental pose of someone or a beautiful scenery, is the finder of a treaser.

Photography is very subjective. Photography is not a document on which a report can be made. It is a subjective document. Photography is a false witness, a lie.

The best photos, the ones that are remembered, are the ones that have first passed through the person’s mind before being restored by the camera.

People like my photos because they see in them what they would see if they stopped rushing about and took the time to enjoy the city.

The world that I was trying to show was a world where I would have felt at peace, where people would be pleasant, and where I would find the kindness I wished to receive. My photographs were proof that such world could exist.

I had fun throughout my lifetime, building my own small theater.

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Doisneau on the Work

A hundredth of a second here, a hundredth of a second there – even if you put them end to end, they still only add up to one, two, perhaps three seconds, snatched from eternity.

For a photographer, the first 70 years are a bit difficult, but after that things get better.

When I first started to take photos I’d pull the black cloth over my head and feel totally secure in the knowledge that no one could see me.

Chance is the one thing you can’t buy. You have to pay for it and you have to pay for it with your life, spending a lot of time, you pay for it with time, not the wasting of time but the spending of time.

Why should I have to photograph in a foreign place when people there do it very well for themselves?

I’m not a collector at heart. I’m never tormented by the longing to possess things. I’m quite happy with my pictures. I’ve been cohabiting with them for years now and we know each other inside out, so I feel I’m entitled to say that pictures have a life and a character of their own. Maybe they’re like plants they won’t really flourish unless you talk to them. I haven’t gone that far – not yet anyway. Lots of them behave like good little girls and give me a nice smile whenever I walk past, but others are real bitches and never miss any opportunity to ruin my life. I handle them with kid gloves.

The advantage we have, compared to painters and writers, is that we never lose contact with the rough side of life. It is a lesson in humility and it keeps us from some pitfalls. But above all it nourishes us.

Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that made you smile!

Les coiffeuses au soleil
Les coiffeuses au soleil, Paris, 1966 © Robert Doisneau Foundation

Capturing Everyday Life

If you’re going to work in a life teeming with people you must have a few rock-hard principles to anchor you and you mustn’t dissipate your efforts. So I decided to stick to ordinary, everyday life for my source material and steer clear of picturesque effects. When I had to choose between a member of some lunatic sect and a French polisher, I’d choose the French polisher.

I only feel at home in the sort of streets where you come across an old-age pensioner with a little white dog, a flower lady, a kid on roller skates, and a fat man, all atthe same time. I shall always be the last person left sauntering in the street.

I like people for their weaknesses and faults. I get on well with ordinary people. We talk. We start with the weather, and little by little we get to the important things. When I photograph them it is not as if I were examining them with a magnifying class, like a cold and scientific observer. It’s very brotherly. And it’s better, isn’t it, to shed some light on those people who are never in the limelight.

I like to think that the universe I have liked will continue on a little bit longer and then will dissolve slowly, gently after I die. Fading in and out, like in the cinema, where we are accustomed to a fade-out at the end. I accept a fade-out. But what I cannot conceive of is a “click” at the end. In the case of those I have liked who have passed away, we continue to read their books, we continue to look at their drawings, their photos. It seems to me that in this way they continue to walk a bit of the way with us. And it is perhaps for this reason that I have photographed the old Paris that I liked so much when I was twenty or thirty years old.

[On his famous photograph, Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville] We all realised that it represented a perfect fantasy. It encapsulates the world’s view of Paris as the city of love and freedom.

The Kiss, Doisneau
Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville, 1950 © Robert Doisneau Foundation

Doisneau Quotes for Better Photography

You know, they always say that the photographer is “a hunter of images.” That is a flattering image, the idea of a hunter, it’s virile, acquired power. Actually though, it isn’t that. We are really fishermen with hooks and lines.

If I knew how to take a good photograph, I’d do it every time.

The photographer must be absorbent, like a blotter, allow himself to be permeated by the poetic moment… His technique should be like an animal function… he should act automatically.

You’ve got to struggle against the pollution of intelligence in order to become an animal with very sharp instincts – a sort of intuitive medium – so that to photograph becomes a magical act, and slowly other more suggestive images begin to appear behind the visible image, for which the photographer cannot be held responsible.

I prefer my hesitations, my false paths, my stammering, to a preconceived idea.

I’m not that sure of myself. I start off with a story. I wait for the moment that fills me with wonder. Or I wait for some kind of miracle that that will always happen.

There is that moment when we are truly visionary. There, everything works tremendously well. But all this is only a part of that great game that puts us into a trance, into a state of receptivity. This trance doesn’t last long, however, because life always calls you back to its commands. There are always contingencies. But somehow, despite it all, the effect does last. I think that it could be classed as a feeling. For me it is a kind of “religion of looking.”

Un Regard Oblique, 1948 © Robert Doisneau Foundation

To Suggest, Not Tell

Nowadays people’s visual imagination is so much more sophisticated, so much more developed, particularly in young people, that now you can make an image which just slightly suggests something, they can make of it what they will.

If you take photographs, don’t speak, don’t write, don’t analyse yourself, and don’t answer any questions.

I don’t usually give out advice or recipes, but you must let the person looking at the photograph go some of the way to finishing it. You should offer them a seed that will grow and open up their minds.

You must not trample on other people’s secret gardens. To suggest is to create; to describe is to destroy.

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What’s your Favorite Robert Doisneau Quote?

Have a favorite Robert Doisneau quote from the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Don’t forget to bookmark this page, or print it out, and refer to it next time you need some inspiration. If you’ve found the article helpful, then we would be grateful if you could share it with other photographers.

To learn more about Doisneau’s photography, visit the Robert Doisneau Foundation website.

Looking for more words of wisdom from master photographers? Check out the quotes section of Photogpedia for more great photography quotes.

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Founder of Photogpedia.com. Photography enthusiast, occasional filmmaker, part-time writer and full-time dreamer. Rediscovered photography in 2012 and have been trying to level up my photography skills since (I'm getting there) #chasingthecreative

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