Obituary: Edouard Boubat

IN 1956, Edouard Boubat made a photograph of a young woman. Wearing a muslin shirt and a dark skirt, her hair a little disordered, she resembled a heroine of some far-off revolution. Boubat's portrait of Lella, which paid homage not only to beauty and youth, but also to strength and determination, became one of the icons of post-war European portraiture. "I love music, painting and above all, life," Boubat insisted. "Life gives me my photos. I need other people. Photography is a profession for encounters!"

Boubat made his first appearance as a photographer at the age of 23. in a group show at Galerie La Hune in 1951. Fellow exhibitors included Robert Doisneau, Izis and Brassai, photographers who had already established significant reputations as humanist documentarists. Like them, Boubat encountered a city which was still traumatised by the German occupation of the Second World War, and determined, through photography, to re-establish it as a place of vigour and desire, to reinstate its pre-war gaiety.

In the Paris of Boubat and Doisneau, couples kissed on the street, bakeries and cafes bustled with life, people looked to the future rather than grieving over the past. Paris was deeply scarred, humiliated and beset by guilt, politically and socially troubled, but Boubat and his contemporaries directed their cameras towards the renewal of Parisian life, the reassertion of a national identity.

As did Doisneau, Boubat began his career as a printer, studying at the Ecole Estienne in Paris in the late 1930s. Throughout the war, he worked as a photogravure printer, and began to work as a photographer in 1946. For some years, he worked freelance, selling photographs to the press. His talent was recognised by Realites magazine, who gave him his first job as a staff photographer in 1951.

He stayed with Realites for the next 15 years, documenting the world around him with a loving and highly individualistic eye. Though he travelled extensively for the magazine, he had no desire to report from war zones, or to photograph the celebrated or the monumental. Boubat's stock-in- trade was the serendipity of everyday life, a glance, a gesture, a beam of light falling across a city square, old men passing the time of day, graceful young women, elegant young men, children playing, the changing tableaux of urban life.

Although Boubat's photographs were featured in numerous exhibitions and publications, throughout Europe and the United States, he never achieved the status of the great French documentarists - Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai and Doisneau himself. For a new generation which had begun the rejection of romanticism which was to gather pace as the Sixties approached, Boubat's view of the world was perhaps a little too kind, his vision of the human comedy lacking the ambiguity which Cartier-Bresson and Brassai injected into their finest work.

His photographs of women, for which he became so well known, lacked both Sixties edge and the realisation of changing sexual identities. But Boubat always had an audience for his work: he showed and published from the Sixties to the Eighties, with solo exhibitions at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris in 1973, the Musee d'Art Moderne (1980) and at the prestigious Witkin Gallery in New York (1982).

Books appeared throughout the Seventies, including his best known, Femmes/Woman, in 1972. His photographs were included in a number of major survey exhibitions at the beginning of the 1980s, notably "Counterparts: form and emotion in photographs" (which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1982), and "Subjective Photography: images of the Fifties", which began an extensive tour at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1984. Boubat's work was supported by distinguished curators and editors such as Rune Hassner in Sweden, Claude Nori in Paris and Ute Eskildsen in Germany.

It is now some time since we have seen Boubat's work in exhibition or publication. The decline in interest in post-war European documentary reportage diverted the gaze of galleries and magazines from what had become almost a photographic cliche. Though associated with the Rapho Photo Agency, Boubat had become a figure from the past, his gentle photographs unable to answer our questions about the past.

The genre of photography within which Boubat worked became demeaned by countless posters and reproductions. The questions asked after the revelation that certain iconic pieces of street reportage were staged rather than taken from reality, further diminished the popularity of such work.

But, whatever our caveats, to see a Boubat photograph from the 1950s is to glimpse an elegance and style which has disappeared from our world. He shows a Paris uncluttered by cars and consumerism, where young women dressed every day like fashion models, a city of smells and sensations, redolent with social history writ large in the everyday. The Paris we still search for is altogether present in the photographs of Edouard Boubat, a man who saw his work as a series of encounters, a constant source of wonder and delight.

Val Williams

Edouard Boubat, photographer: born Paris 13 September 1923; married (one son); died Paris 30 June 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice