Starting in 1985 Willy Ronis immerses himself in his photographic collection and selects what he considers the essential of his work. He made six albums including 590 photos that represent for him his photographic testament. These are the matrix of this exhibition. The Eye of photography underscores the importance of this great photographer who left us almost ten years ago by publishing each day one of the nine components of this exceptional exhibition, today: Icons of the world of workers and social struggles.
In 1936, Willy Ronis decided to leave his father’s little neighbourhood studio to “embark on an independent photographic adventure”. Several publications of his work in different left-wing newspapers backed up his decision.
With the birth of the Popular Front, he frantically photographed the trade union marches, the giant rallies at the Winter Velodrome and the parade on 14th July where he immortalised the girl in the Phrygian cap which was published in Regards and which became one of his icons. This would also happen later to his image of the trade unionist, Rose Zehner, haranguing her colleagues during the strike at Citroën in 1938.
In the aftermath of the war, at the request of a reborn and committed press, Willy Ronis discovered many social conflicts, such as the strikes at SNECMA (1947) and Renault (1950). For Life magazine, he covered the miners’ strike in Saint-Étienne (1948) and then produced another report on the mining region of Lens (1951). No “shock” images in his approach, but rather an attitude to people that was almost complicit, evidence of his solidarity with the workers’ struggles. Images not made to be moving, but to inform.
Conflicts were not the photographer’s only sources of interest. The working-class world fascinated him, and, beyond that, industry itself – forges, mills, docks – without forgetting the craftsmen and the farmworkers. All of the images show Willy Ronis’ attention to, and fellow-feeling for, the human condition in the normality of everyday life.
Exhibition co-produced by the Mairie of the 20th arrondissement of Paris and theMédiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, in partnership with the Union of National Museums – Grand Palais, curated by Gérard Uféras and Jean-Claude Gautrand.