Tuesday 15 April 2014

Kiss Kiss

If you googled yourself here trying to graduate from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by finding a review of Roald Dahl's dark-humored, not to say sick, book of short stories for adults, then I refer you onwards. If you are curious as to why Dahl had such a dark view of the world, it was partly because life dealt him some pretty shitty cards.

Today I am in a much more romantic place: because it is Spring, because I have just eaten a croissant, because Piaf is singing on youtube, I am transported to Paris.  And what is more erotomantic than the iconic photo by Robert Doisneau Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville? Which he created in 1950 and had published in LIFE magazine.  If you have a spare €40 you can have yourself a glossy copy.

Seems like Doisneau was a nice guy, quite modest, especially about money, and worked for the French Resistance during WWII but refused to photograph the humiliation of the French girls who had slept with Germans.  He was known for working/walking the streets looking for a slightly romanticised version of grim post-war French reality.  He turned down at least one contract working in the brittle glamour of the fashion industry.  A generation after it was taken, his image for Le Baiser became iconic for everyone who holds Paris close to their romantic heart - which is everyone who has a soul - and was reproduced hundreds of thousands of times.  In 1992 there was a flurry of publicity about the posters and a French couple, Jean and Denise Lavergne, thought they recognised themselves in the picture, so they sued Doisneau for invasion of their privacy.

Legal discovery revealed that there was rather less spontaneity about the picture: Doisneau had seen the embrace of the young lovers, Françoise Delbart and Jacques Carteaud, and asked them to re-snog in a few locations in central Paris until he reckoned his Leica had captured the essence: this is how true artists hone their craft.  According to Colin Randall and supported by every green-shirted Irishman the intent chap in the beret with the walk-on part behind the couple is Irish auctioneer Jack Costello on pilgrimage to Rome but there is some doubt even about that.  Doisneau's daughter is firm in her belief that M. Béret is Gérard Petit un avocat Québecois. At some stage Françoise Bornet née Delbart also sued for a chunk of money and a share in the royalties. In due course, both cases were dismissed but the process shocked Doisneau whose own moral compass was so quietly well-tuned: “I would have never dared to photograph people like that. Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate.”  I don't think today's paparazzi would even consider the issues let alone come down on the side of discretion.  Neither Jack Costello, nor his family, nor indeed Jacques Carteaud, who long ago left acting to become a successful vigneron, considered instructing their lawyers.  Romance? It's not about the money it's about Paris in the Spring.

It was Doisneau's birthday (14/04/12) yesterday.   Levez vos chapeaux et un p'tit verre de vin rouge.

Disclaimer added from comments (q.v.): I lifted the Irish Connection from the cited piece by Colin Randall - quite uncritically like any parochial blog (Devastating Earthquake in China, Irish Missionary's tea-pot rattles).  More on the Québecois Connection.


  1. I enjoyed reading that. One small quarrel: I do not support the idea that the man in the beret was Jack Costello. I have simply reported his family's belief in the theory. It deserves to be true but the weight of evidence is against them as my various pieces on the subject show.

    1. Ooops my bad, my lazy-arse. Typical of internet 'research': you (by which I mean I, of course) go as far as a neat sound-byte and then stop because we have a twitter length attention span.