Photography – A Beginner’s Guide – Street Photography [Robert Doisneau] – An article by Goff James

Welcome followers and visitors to my blog and another update in my photography Beginner’s Guide to Photography.

This week I will be talking another look at Street Photography and looking at an image by Robert Doisneau.

As I have stated in previous articles one can learn so much about photography by looking at; and, talking about other photographers’ work.

Street Photography may be defined as;

  • featuring subjects in candid situations featuring unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public spaces. [1]
  • not necessitating either the presence of any urban environ or any human presence within it. It can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic.[2][page needed][3]
  • reflecting society as it manifests itself and non-manipulated where the subjects are unaware of the photographer’s presence. The photographer, in a sense, can be viewed as an extension of the flâneur – a casual street observer.
  • being ironic, amusing and be distanced from the subject matter. It frequently focuses upon a single human action captured at a decisive or poignant moment. The vocabulary of street photography is subtlety with no inherent premeditated message.
  • providing a very literal and extreme rendition of the subject and provide a more unfamiliar visceral experience beyond the personal experience of the viewer.
  • being able to document a particular scenario and defined by its very candidness.

being aloof and impartial in the nature of any particular activity delivering a true depiction of that which is being observed.

1.Warner Marien, Mary (2012). 100 ideas that changed photography. London: Laurence King Publishing. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-85669-793-4.

2.Colin Westerbeck. Bystander: A History of Street Photography. 1st ed. Little, Brown and Company, 1994.

3.”Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2015-04-21.

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 19.03.28
Robert Doisneau, Le violoncelle sous la pluie, Paris.

Compositionally the black and white image with its subtle diffused tonal qualities presents a street view imbued with the muted low key natural back lighting on a typically miserable, misty, mysterious, rain filled morning.

The image captures the very essence and spirit of place through the light and atmospheric qualities. The work is possessed with the sense of the powerful understated energy that is both ethereal and mysterious.

The image presents a shallow depth of field with the clarity of focus centred upon the silhouetted cello, umbrella and the man holding it affectionately and protectively over the cello shielding it, rather than himself, from the rain.

The suggestion is that the importance of the instrument takes precedence over man. His head turned directly towards the right frame indicates his attention is focused elsewhere to something beyond the frame of the image.

The perspective and texture of the cobbled street with its many leading lines from the bottom of the frame lead directly to the location of the cello.

The actions of the man draws the viewer directly into the image.

This instigates an engagement and dialogue with both the photographer and the experience of that which has been observed and photographed.

The staging of the image is both theatrical and comic in nature and filled with understated wit and humour. Placing the cello in the position one might expect to see a woman suggests a love of music.

A visual statement is being made with regard to a society’s perception of the arts in general. The image questions the role of the arts as not being viewed simply as an intellectual feat, but evoking a similar kind of emotional sensual depth.

The dark shadowing of the pavement edge acts as a stage on which a certain performance is being presented. The artefacts in the background act as props to accentuate the importance of that which is presented front of stage.

The central positioning  of the cello framed between the gap in the balcony handrail, the two men, the umbrella and the cropped lamplight accentuate the images narrative.

That which is reflected here is the photographer’s compositional concept and through his arrangements of the juxtaposed elements has created an intriguing vision of society reflecting cubist, surrealist, abstractionist and minimalist elements.

The image demonstrate a subject’s passion for music in an original way, choosing to show how the cello as an integral part of his life, rather than a mere instrument played for performance.

This concept is echoed by man seen painting in the background and highlights the notion of a devotion to art, as even the rain cannot deter him from continuing his work.

The dynamism of the image is created by the way in which the photographer has imbued it with the sense of humanity.

The use of a monochromatic palette has captured a small cast of characters within the context of certain time involving two specific activities – music and art.

Doisneau has juxtaposed conformist, unorthodox, innovative elements with a tongue-in-cheek attitude through his promotion of anti-establishment values.

I trust that you find some of these ideas useful within the context of your own photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment and allow different ideas to develop as you go along.

Remember what I referred to in previous articles about taking photos and creating photograms; the same applies to considering your own photos, other photographers’ work as well as applying different artist’s ideas too.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Experiment! Experiment! Experiment!

Remember there are no right or wrong answers or ways of doing it.

Your photographs are your world.

You can do what you like. 

Don’t worry about the theory and trying to remember everything about how to take or consider how to look at or stage a photograph.

Don’t worry about what you might think is right or wrong in talking about or taking photographs.

 Make mistakes. Laugh. Have funJust enjoy the process.

Happy Photography. 

Thank you for your visit.

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Reference List