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I Got the Willies and Ran to See Willy Ronis

Stairwell at the Mairie de 20èmeStairwell at the Mairie de 20ème

Willy Ronis by Willy Ronis

The Pavillon Carré de BaudoinThe Pavillon Carré de Baudoin

Pavillon Carré de Baudoin, side wall opposit the 96 bus stopPavillon Carré de Baudoin, side wall opposit the 96 bus stop

Willy Ronis - Le Nu Provençal Gordes 1949Willy Ronis – Le Nu Provençal Gordes 1949

Willy Ronis - Usine Lorraine Escaut Sedan 1959Willy Ronis – Usine Lorraine Escaut Sedan 1959

You have till January 2nd to visit the Pavillon Carré de Baudoin in the 20th arrondissement — a district with which you might not be terribly familiar. We mistakingly ventured over to the Mairie de 20ème at Place Gambetta and mounted its steep staircase looking for the exhibition, only to discover that we had gone way out of our way. In fact, the 96 bus dropped us off literally at the door of the Pavillon without our realizing it.

Nonetheless, the exhibition of the Willy Ronis photos, now extended to the January 2nd closing (originally scheduled to close September 29th), is seriously worth a detour to these outer parts of Paris. I’d never heard of Le Pavillon Carré de Baudoin, although it’s celebrating 10 years of existence. This cultural space of the 20th-century chose to feature about 200 pieces of Willy Ronis’ monumental art. Much of his photography was focused on the immediate districts of Belleville and Ménilmontant — the vicinity in which the Pavillon is located. The exhibition is entirely free of charge.

A key figure in the history of French photography, Willy Ronis (1910-2009) is one of the greatest figures of the so-called “humanist” photography, committed to fraternally capturing the essential of people’s daily lives. From 1985, Willy Ronis plunged into his photographic collection to select what he considers to be the essence of his work. He produced a series of six albums, thus creating his “photographic testament.” These unpublished albums are the matrix of the exhibition: the beginnings, self portraits, nudes, the world at large, Paris, the provinces, elsewhere and intimate life. The exhibition was organized jointly by the town hall of 20th arrondissement and the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (MAP, Media Library of Architecture and the Patrimone), in partnership with the Agence Photographique de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais.

Ronis became a photographer in 1936. Observing the world, his photographs draw a sort of intimate and profound portrait of society and of the time. He traveled the world over and photographed people in the ordinary routines of their lives. By placing man at the center of his work, and by imposing on him his own optimistic and benevolent view, Ronis did not neglect to give an account of the hardness and struggles of the time, hence the many images in the exhibition on the world of labor struggles marks his empathy and a social commitment that lasted throughout his work.

I was moved, not only by the quality of the work, the intimacy of his subjects and his eye for that special moment, but by his extraordinary view on the Paris and provinces within which we revel. While Ronis was a familiar name and impression on my everlasting love of photography, these works struck me more profoundly than most because of the way they chronicled life in France just as we’ve always imagined it.

Don’t miss it and don’t be misled into thinking it’s in the Mairie of the 20ème like we did. Head straight for 121 rue de Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris, Métro Pelleport Line 3 and Bus 96, the Pyrénées-Ménilmontant stop both going and coming.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

Adrian Leeds


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