Robert Doisneau: The lost belly – FINISHED!!

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Reviewed on 02/13/2012 | No Reviews

Photo: © Atelier Robert Doisneau

“Paris is losing its belly and much of its spirit.” It was Robert Doisneau, the famous French photographer, who, in a few words, got to the heart of it. It was at the beginning of the 1970’s and the destruction of Les Halles, the central food market in Paris, was one of the greatest urban crimes committed in the French capital.

Doisneau not only caught the vibrant life and great gaiety of Les Halles, he also documented their destruction and the construction of a new market, a “clean cube” at Rungis, in the suburbs of Paris. An exhibition in the City Hall is now retracing Doisneau’s touching work of memory.

The gaze of passion

Robert Doisneau was just twenty years old, when he took his first picture at Les Halles. It shows two girls in a hand truck drawn by a man. At this time, he was a student who just had bought his first camera, a 6×6 Rolleiflex. But in this very first picture of Les Halles you can already feel the gaze of a great photographer and the beginning of a passion.
Expo Doisneau à l’hôtel de Ville : des Halles… par mairiedeparis
Thirty years later he had become one of the biggest campaigners for the preservation of the pavilions built by Victor Baltard and the bustling life in and around them. Unfortunately, no warning could convince the technocrats back than. They wanted to displace the huge food market allegedly for hygienic and logistical reasons. And they couldn’t care less about the belly, never mind its soul.

Everything was going to disappear

Knowing that les Halles were going to disappear, Doisneau started work in the early 1960s on a detailed study of the markets and their inhabitants. Living in Montrouge, a close suburb in the South of Paris,  he got up at 3 a.m. once a week to join the dawn workers in the belly of Paris: “It was difficult to photograph”, he noted, “there was little light, my reflexes were dulled by tiredness, and there were so many potential images. It was also an intimidating place. But I stuck to it. I knew that everything was going to disappear. I absolutely wanted to capture it for posterity, to eternalize the memory.”

For all those who can still feel that the belly of Paris is missing, “Doisneau – Paris Les Halles”, the exhibition at the City Hall, is an absolute must. It shows around 200 photos, mostly vintage prints, several colour prints, showing the poetry of reality, the late face of market that had existed for more than nine hundred years. And – much more touching – the faces of those who embodied what was called “the belly of Paris” and what was, in reality, its soul.

Doisneau  - Paris Les Halles – From 8 February to 28 April 2012 – FINISHED!!
Hôtel de Ville – City Hall
29, Rue de Rivoli
75004 Paris
From Monday – Saturday 10a.m. – 7p.pm.
Free admission
Métro: Hôtel de Ville  
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