Was Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville” Really a Candid Shot?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the world of photography and whether they are true or false.

PHOTOGRAPHY URBAN LEGEND: Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville” was a candid shot.

While obviously Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V–J day in Times Square” photograph of a soldier spontaneously celebrating the surrender of Japan in 1945 with a nearby woman is the most famous candid kiss captured as a photograph…

Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville” was always a close second, with his seemingly candid shot of two young lovers kissing in the streets of Paris, which (like Eisentaedt’s picture in 1945) appeared in Life Magazine in 1950.

Interestingly enough, while Eisentaedt’s photograph was an instant classic, it was not until the early 1980s that Doisneau’s photograph became a sensation, after a publisher came to Doisneau looking to turn the decades old photograph into a poster.

Over the years, the photo was treated as a candid shot and various people had come forward claiming to be the kissing couple. Doisneau always let them have their chance at making their claim – it was fine by him, as he knew who the actual couple was, so if others wanted to say it was them, it was no skin off his back.

That changed, however, in 1993.

That year the idea that the photo was a candid shot was dispelled as Doisneau was sued by a couple purporting to be the kissers. In his (successful) rebuttal of their claim, Doisneau explained that the photograph was posed, using two actors/models, Françoise Bornet and her then boyfriend Jacques Carteaud.

After the publicity of the case, Bornet then sued for a percentage of the money the photo had brough Doisneau over the years. Doisneau successfully defeated this claim, too, as he still had the contract Bornet signed.

Bornet did, however, make a bundle when she sold her original print of the photograph that was given to her by Doisneau at the time of the shoot in 1950. The print sold for over 150,000 euros!

Doisneau (who passed away in 1994) had an interesting take on the notion of why he would never have taken such a shot candidly – “I would have never dared to photograph people like that. Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate.”


The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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