I spoke to Robert Doisneau only once. On the phone. I was photographing in Paris at the time and I happened to find a few old prints of him. When I told him he wanted to know which ones, and commented that they were possibly used for one of his books. When I told him that I was a photographer myself he asked what my subject was, and when I said, people mainly, the conversation became even more personal. At the time he was at home a lot, taking care of his wife who was terminally ill and he probably did very little photography. He really took the time to talk about photography; then wanted to know what I liked best of his work and to my surprise suggested the humorous photographs and the series of the man with the cello, which I knew, but never liked. He said he hoped he had made people happy with his photographs. I felt like he was testing me, but politely answered, I liked those categories “pas tellement” (not so much), quickly adding that of the books he made “La Banlieue de Paris” (with the beautiful text by Blaise Cendrars about the impoverished Paris suburbs of 1949) was my all-time favorite. There was a silence, of surprise maybe, then his friendly voice, “mais c’est si triste!…” (but that’s so sad…) The only reason – and it felt almost like an excuse – that I could think of, was that I grew up in a suburb myself and I was touched by the atmosphere. He liked that.
Only a few days ago I was walking in the icy drizzle of late winter in the beautiful medieval center of the French town of Dinan, Bretagne, paying attention not to slip on its equally picturesque cobblestoned streets. It reminded me of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book “Les Européens”. There were few people on the streets and only a few families, looking a bit lost while visiting the fairground along the river bank.
I had just bought a postcard of Cartier-Bresson’s man jumping over a puddle, which was almost the only one of interest in the whole Super U shopping mall, apart from some Doisneau cards.
But in this cold and wet town I missed the people to bring it to life. I was holding my Contax in my pocket, but didn’t take anything.
A thought struck me: the Tourist Remover! I had only just recently learned about this program with its ominous name which can remove anything that moves from your digital snaps. You just take a series with some intervals and the program “sees” what moves, removing it and filling the gap with what it perceives as permanent. If only those digitally removed tourists remained floating somewhere in cyberspace…. How happily would I use them to fill my empty streets! A program called “Tourist Adder” for the street photographer? But I’m not a digital photographer. On second thoughts, no thanks, I’ll manage, I’ll deal with reality.