Issue #164  10/24/2009
French Photographer Willy Ronis Passes Away At 99 After Being Honored At Arles in July

Willy Ronis, the last of the great wartime and post-war French photographers known for their humanistic images of Paris, died at age 99. Ronis passed away early September 12th in a Paris hospital after being on dialysis for some time.

Ronis, like fellow photographers Brassaï, Édouard Boubat, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, wandered and photographed the streets and residents of Paris.

Willy Ronis was born on August 14, 1910, in Paris, where his Jewish parents had fled from the czarist pogroms in from Odessa and Lithuania. The family started a photography studio, and Ronis helped retouch photographic prints as a child. At age 15 he was given his first camera by his father.

Despite wanting to be a concert violinist and pressured by his father to study law, he took over the family studio when his father became ill with cancer in 1932. It was then that Ronis met and befriended David Seymour, Robert Capa and Cartier-Bresson.

In 1936, after his father’s death, Ronis sold the family business and became a freelance photographer.

After the fall of France in 1940, Ronis fled south to Vichy France and spent a year with a traveling theatrical troupe. When the Germans occupied the south of France, he went into hiding. It was during this time that he met his future wife, the painter Marie-Anne Lansiaux. Lansiaux became the subject of one of Ronis' most famous photographs, "Provençal Nude" (1949). His wife died in 1991 and there are no immediate survivors.

In 1944 Ronis returned to Paris. In 1946 he joined the Rapho photo agency. Edward Steichen included him in two important exhibitions at the New York Museum of Modern Art, "Five French Photographers" in 1951 and "The Family of Man" in 1955. In 2005, a retrospective of his work was shown at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.

Despite his failing health, Ronis had traveled to the Arles photo festival just this past July to receive a special honor and to view the retrospective of his work that was organized for the Rencontres d'Arles.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, praised Ronis as "the chronicler of postwar social aspirations and the poet of a simple and joyous life."

In August when the Paris newspaper "Le Figaro" asked him how he would like to be remembered, he said simply, "As a fine fellow and a good photographer."