Doisneau’s ‘L’Accordéoniste de la Rue Mouffetard’ (1951) as an example of French humanist photography

The Accordionist Rue Mouffetard (accessed 3/2/2018) was the starting point for this piece of research.  I like this style of work because it’s beautiful as much as it’s intellectual so it has an impact on different levels.  “The much-loved Doisneau was torn between raw street photography and the desire to make his subjects look beautiful” (, accessed 3/2/18).  As with allegorical paintings, this photograph has multiple symbols in it,  most specifically referring to the theme of blindness:

  1. There is a dark band across the accordionist’s eyes.
  2. He has a white stick.
  3. The no entry sign is like an emoji for blindness above his head.
  4. We, the viewers, are blind to what the group on the left are looking at.  The lady on the right is also looking at something out of frame that we cannot see.
  5. The poster frame is empty.
  6. The artist behind the accordionist is looking at a scene which is mostly behind us so we are also blind to that.

The conclusion is that, cleverly, the viewer is the person who can see nothing of what everyone else can see.

I love the complexity of the image much as I loved the similar complexity of T S Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’ when I was a student the last time around.  It’s like trying to complete a puzzle.

The two most significant figures in the French humanist photography movement are Doisneau and Brassaï.  This school of photography are predominantly black and white and concentrated on scenes of everyday people in their everyday lives.  The impetus for this was the second World War.  France was increasingly xenophobic after invasion and fighting and elevated the common man to hero status for his work in The Resistance and to fill the void of France’s pride.

A number of themes are commonplace in this style of photography.  Lovers, families and children are commonly pictured doing things typical of their genre.  The viewer first sees the main characters and then becomes aware of the real story in the background details.

The themes of street people, public gatherings and the street often appear together.

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