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Willy Ronis

"I never, ever went out without my camera, even to buy bread." Willy Ronis

The photographs he took in Paris add up to a voyage sentimental through half a century, "a living memory," as Henri Raczymow put it, "our own, that of our parents, and that of our grandparents." Ronis's special interest was in people he met in the streets: tradesmen, market vendors, children. The Paris of gala receptions tended to leave him cold. He preferred to roam the quais and markets, the railway stations and parks, the bistros and cafés. He captured the after-work and holiday diversions along the Canal Saint-Martin, the banks of the Marne, and other popular outing destinations. In 1947, he discovered the quarters of Belleville and Ménilmontant, whose unpretentious simplicity and poetry he memorialized in an eponymous book, perhaps Ronis's finest album.

Photography trips took him beyond the Paris city limits to the Vosges, the Alps (1937), to Limousin and Vivarais, to Greece, Yugoslavia, and Albania (1928—1939). After the war, Ronis traveled to Algiers, East Berlin, Prague, Moscow and Venice. "I don't arrange, I deal with chance," he once described his photographic recipe. While many of his colleagues were likewise in league with chance, Ronis never aimed at the humorous point—like Doisneau—or the classical composition—like Cartier-Bresson— but focused on the human aspects of unspectacular, everyday life.

Instructed in piano and violin as a boy and later animated by the desire to become a composer, musicality played a special role in Ronis's art throughout his career. In many of the compositions of this great admirer of Bach and Mozart, we come across structures reminiscent of polyphony. It is a combination of emotionality and rationality that makes Ronis's art special. As he himself once put it, "The beautiful image is geometry modulated by the heart."

Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan

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