Marking the centenary of his birth and approaching the anniversary of his death, this exhibition of the work of Willy Ronis (19102009), jointly organised by Jeu de Paume and the Monnaie de Paris
with the contribution of the Médiathèque de lArchitecture et du Patrimoine, is not just a homage to one of the most internationally famous French photographers, whose images have been distributed by the Rapho agency since 1950; it also sets out to reveal previously unknown aspects of his work.
Rather than claiming to offer an exhaustive study of Roniss work, this exhibition sets out to highlight the features that made it unique. Ranging from his best-known images to others that are seldom published, the selection of prints shown here, taken from the photographers donation to the French state, is articulated around five main fields of observation, between public and private space: the street and the people in it, work, travel, the body, and the photographers own life and world.
Like those of his contemporaries Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Izis, René-Jacques and others Roniss photographs helped construct the humanist narrative that was developed in France in the years after the Second World War. This humanist philosophy placed human realities at the centre of political and social concerns and, while certainly not limited to France, became a powerful touchstone of French national identity less as a specific genre than as a narrative form in which each mode of fiction is perfectly codified in keeping with the persons, settings and actions involved. This has continued to hold sway even into the present.
The Ronis style is intimately bound up with his life and career and his discourse on photography. He was well known for the countless stories he could tell about any of his photographs, combining words with actions and narrative with image. And to make these multiple interpretations meaningful, Ronis was always ready to talk about his life and its political and ideological context, as can be seen from some of the captions in this show.
Indeed, many of his images of the world of work take on a particular resonance at the Monnaie de Paris, an industrial site whose employees have always been emblematic of social struggle.
Bodies and emotions, environments, gestures and actions come together here in a visual sequence in which 21st-century viewers may not so much identify or empathise as experience the fascination of a poetics founded on personal engagement.