Reversing the gaze : Robert Doisneau and the fashioning of Coco Chanel

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


Robert Doisneau's 1953 photograph, Mademoiselle Chanel, 31 rue Cambon, Paris, is a visual anomaly for both photographer and subject. Doisneau chose to roam the streets of Paris, capturing images that, though sometimes staged, maintained a visceral quality that implied a fleeting moment. Coco Chanel, on the other hand, well versed in portraiture practice, was a willing collaborator with her photographers in order to create an image that suited her desires. Mademoiselle Chanel, 31 rue Cambon, Paris was the third of three images captured by Doisneau during his session at Chanel's studio. The photographs are similar in their use of mirrored reflections to craft an enigmatic view of Chanel, but Doisneau's fashioning of Chanel throughout the series differs dramatically. Originally intended for the pages of French Vogue, the image never made it to publication. Taken in the mirrored staircase of Chanel's Paris atelier, Mademoiselle Chanel, 31 rue Cambon, Paris, is situated within a private space that functioned as Chanel's personal heterotopia. A desire to watch her shows in the couture salon below without being seen led to the creation of the mirrored staircase. An examination of the photograph through the twinned lenses of Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault illuminates the panoptic nature of the space that afforded Chanel an authorial gaze. Doisneau's photograph, in stark contrast to Chanel's commercial images, dissolves the private space that Chanel inhabited on the staircase. Ultimately, Doisneau's photograph undermines the control that Chanel invested in the staircase and appropriated the mirrors and their fragmented reflections in order to reverse the gaze of Chanel and her image.




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