Willy Ronis at Hotel de la Monnaie

Lovers of the Bastille

It’s not exactly exhibit season in full swing here in Paris – the times are lazy, calling for picnics and for terraces – but this is Paris, after all, and the art scene is always rich. The Willy Ronis exhibit is one of the shows to see this summer. Cool off under the high ceilings and in the air-conditioned rooms of the Hotel de la Monnaie – the 18th-century Palace that’s home to the Paris Mint). It’ll be a refuge from the scorching heat, and above all, the works on display are beautiful.

Post-war Paris and Provence. The occasional snapshot of Prague, London, or Venice. But mostly France, really, and its working classes. Factory workers working. Factory workers on strike. Couples saying goodbye. Children in tiny hooded capes, walking the road to school. Young female employees of fashion houses, leaving work at Place Vendome, skipping over water puddles with their little heels. A Paris flea market. A street crossing on a foggy morning, with long coats walking briskly by.

One of the charms of this exhibit lies in the accompanying texts, with the artist telling the stories behind his favorite photographs. His gentle and humane comments give the viewer a feeling of intimacy, even in the midst of a public palace – the 18th century Paris Mint Palace. His comment about the picture Volendam, taken during a walk with his wife in Holland, recounts how these two women sitting on a bench – one of them large and the other young and troubled – immediately caught his attention. He triggered his camera when a little girl appeared abruptly from behind the embankment, arms stretched out, creating an interesting line with the nearby bench. Only later on, as he developed the photograph, did he notice a little boy’s head peeking out in the background.

Volendam

Another photograph (Nu Provencal) depicts his wife on a hot day in their home in southern France. When Ronis caught her bending gracefully as she tried to cool off, he asked her not to move in an attempt to freeze this gesture – and the light and shadows playing off around her.

Nu Provençal

The exhibit also presents some choice quotes by Ronis (“I do not know of angst. I do not know where I am, except in front, more or less fortuitously, of things or people that I like, that interest me or bother me”). But there’s nothing like his iconic pictures to leave an imprint on our memories.

Le Parisien

From the most famous – like Le Parisien, a little boy running with a smile and a baguette, or Lovers of the Bastille, a classic of romantic photography – to less glamorous shots that became famous later on in his career – such as the Strike at Citroën.

Strike at Citroën

Footnotes –

Willy Ronis: une poetique de l’engagement. Until August 22nd at Hotel de la Monnaie, 11 Quai de Conti in the 6th. Open 11am-7pm everyday, 11am-9.30pm on Thursdays. Phone: +331 40 46 56 66. General Admission: 7 euros. Discounted tickets: 5 euros.

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