Jewish Artist: The Provence of Willy Ronis

For the son of a Jewish emigrant from the Ukraine, Willy Ronis, Gordes will become the first Provencal peacemaker. He discovered the city by chance during a documentary on the painter André Lhote in the Drôme. The painter offered to accompany him to his studio in Gordes where he painted the famous portrait of the painter holding an empty frame.

The photographer bought a ruined house there and the immediate work was the excuse for beautiful photographs of artisans and a fetish and iconic cliché “Le nu provençal”, where his wife refreshes herself with water from a basin.

The region thus became the means to reproduce photographs of landscapes and everyday moments. Ronis plays in the Luberon with the lights and between the narrow streets of Gordes to capture an art of living.

He bought a small mill which became his main residence where unknown or known friends (Fougeron, Lotar, André Lhote, Vasarely) met. He traveled around the region by bike or motorbike to make numerous reports on small trades and village life.

As the media changed, he was increasingly forced to live in the region due to the lack of orders that could support his family. He taught at the School of Fine Arts in Avignon and then at the Faculty of Letters in Aix-en-Provence. And there he was a pioneer figure. Teaching photography was practically non-existent in France at the beginning of the 1970s.

He then moved to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where he continued to explore the region and continued his teaching at the faculty of Marseille. His Provençal work was shortly to be presented as part of the Year of Heritage at the Pompidou Centre and he was the guest of honor at the 11th Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles.

As a result, his fame remained unalterable. In 1983, he moved back to Paris. However, his photographs between Luberon and Ventoux represent a privileged moment in his life, which he describes as follows: “Marie-Anne at my side, the sun in shambles, in this blessed countryside of orchards and vineyards separated by rows of black cypress hedges”.

He often visited the place until almost 100 years ago, when he was once again one of the guests at the 40th Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles. And this episode continues to be the key moment for the man who was before all a pedestrian in Paris.

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