For Photography Month, here is a brief look at one of the most memorable collaborations between a photographer and a cellist. Below is arguably one of the most famous cello photos, with the man holding his umbrella, not over himself, but over his cello case to shield it from the rain. (Hands up, any of you who have done this.)
With its compositional beauty and humor, this photo represents the brilliant collaboration between photographer Robert Doisneau (14 April 1912 – 1 April 1994) and cellist Maurice Baquet (26 May 1911 – 8 July 2005).
Maurice Baquet was a cellist, an actor, and an athlete.
Born in Villefranche-sur-Saône, his early cello studies were at the nearby Conservatoire de Lyon, and he continued at the Paris Conservatoire. His classmates included Henri Betti (composer and pianist-accompanist of Maurice Chevalier from 1940 to 1945), Paul Bonneau, Léo Chauliac, Henri Dutilleux, Louiguy, Pierre Spiers, and Raymond Trouard.
After an unsuccessful audition for l’orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris, Baquet turned to acting as a profession but continued to play the cello. Ironically, he became more famous as a cellist in his performances in this context than he would have been as an orchestral musician.
Baquet appeared on the stage, in TV shows, and in over 80 films. In this clip from The Quartet, below, you can see his talent as both a cellist and as an actor. In this video, note:
- Playing the cello with something other than one’s fingers did not originate during the pandemic with people playing “The Swan” with a roll of toilet paper! Here Baquet plays with his shoe on his fingerboard (4:41) and through a handkerchief (3:47).
- Several of the cello gags also appear in still photos by Robert Doisneau, notably sticking his bow on his nose (2:59).
Doisneau is famous for his images of Paris – and his sense of humor. He created over 20 books during his career as well as photographs for Life magazine and Vogue.
Doisneau championed humanist photography – a school of photography that tells the story of the everyday human experience rather than newsworthy events, affirming
“the idea of a universal underlying human nature.” (1)
Although his photographs look completely spontaneous, here is the story of how his most famous picture, “Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville“ (1950) was actually staged. There is an art to making staged photos look spontaneous; together, Doisneau and Basquet were masters, creating a large body of work.
A Brilliant Collaboration
In studying their artistic collaboration, it looks as if Baquet and Doiseanu enjoyed working together. Their humor certainly shines through in many of their images, including “Le violoncelle sous la pluie” (above).
One famous image shows Baquet with his bow stuck on his nose – a still of the gag you can see in The Quartet (above). Doisneau’s photo was even on the cover of Baquet’s book, On dirait du veau . . .
As most of Doisneau’s photographs are still copyrighted, we cannot showcase them in this article. However, you can see a portfolio of images without watermarks here:
Getty Images has several photographs where the talents of Doisneau and Baquet come together, using the art of photography to show mountain sports, the cello, and Baquet’s acting skills:
A couple of our favorites are the one with the face on the music perfectly lined up with Baquet’s head, and Baquet standing with the cello with the medals pinned to its belly.
Together, Doisneau and Baquet published the book Ballade pour violoncelle et chambre noire (“Ballad for cello and dark room”). Unfortunately, this book is out of print (and hard copies are extraordinarily expensive), but you can get a faded PDF copy from some sites based in France.
In all of their work together, both Doisneau and Baquet appear to be enjoying life. You can see Baquet’s joyful expression in Doisneau’s photographs. To produce such humorous images from his subject, Doisneau was likely enjoying himself, too.
In need of a smile today? I encourage you to click on the links above to see more of Doisneau’s images of Baquet.
What is your favorite cello photo? Please let us know in the comments.
In addition to the links above, here are a few sources if you want more information.
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In addition, I highly recommend Celloscope #35 about Maurice Baquet. This is a wonderful series by cellist Alexis Descharmes!
(1) Lutz, C.A. and Collins, J.L. (1993) Reading National Geographic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.277. Quoted on Wikipedia.