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RONIS, Willy

Willy_RONISBorn in 1910 in Paris, France.

Died in 2009 in Paris, France.


Willy Ronis began to devote himself to photography in 1932, when family obligations compelled him to join his father’s photography studio. When his father died four years later, he decided to become a freelance photographer, reporter and illustrator, and quit the studio.

From 1936, Willy Ronis focused on reportage. The Front Populaire movement was on the rise in France, and he shared the same ideals as Robert Capa and David ‘Chim’ Seymour, who were already famous photographers. He also had the opportunity to meet Kertész, Brassaï and Cartier-Bresson. But in comparison to his peers he developed a truly original vision, marked by the attention he paid to ‘the choral harmony of the crowd movements and the joy of popular festivities’.

After World War Two Willy Ronis joined the Rapho agency and, with the support of his friend Romeo Martinez, contributed to Regards, Time and Life.

He won the Kodak Prize in 1947 and the Gold Medal at the 1957 Venice Biennale. Belleville-Ménilmontant, Sur le fil du hasard (an album which earned him the Prix Nadar in 1981) and Mon Paris are among his most important books. By this time it was said that, together with Robert Doisneau and Édouard Boubat, he was ‘one of the major photographers of the post-war French school which skilfully reconciled humanist values with the aesthetic demands of poetic realism’. In the 1950s he took part in the Groupe des XV alongside Robert Doisneau, Pierre Jahan and René-Jacques, defending photography as a true form of artistic expression.

During the 1970s and ’80s, in parallel to his work as a photographer, Willy Ronis spent a great deal of time teaching, first at the Fine Arts College in Avignon, then at the universities of Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, where he created a class on the history of photography and met Pierre-Jean Amar. In 1972 he settled in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, in the Vaucluse in southeastern France.

He was awarded France’s Grand Prize of Arts and Letters for Photography in 1979, and was the guest of honour at the 11th Rencontres d’Arles in 1980. He was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1989. The exhibition Willy Ronis à Paris was held at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris in 2005, to coincide with his 95th birthday. His œuvre is now on display all over the world, and his pictures feature in the collections of the greatest museums. Willy Ronis bequeathed his œuvre to the French state in 1983; his archives will be donated after his death.


Willy Ronis was the guest of honour of the Rencontres d’Arles in 1980, he presented his work at the Musée Réattu. In 1999, Willy Ronis took part in the collective exhibition Le monde et l’éphémère, at the chapelle des Jésuites, Rencontres d’Arles.

There was a retrospective of Willy Ronis’ work at the Rencontres d’Arles in 2009: Willy Ronis / Retrospective at the église Sainte-Anne.