The beautiful Giudecca galleries of Casa dei Tre Oci are currently hosting an important retrospective dedicated to the legendary French photographer Willy Ronis (1910-2009). Featuring 120 vintage images, as well as original archive documents and letters which have never been displayed before, it’s the most complete exhibition of his work ever to be staged in Italy, and one that has been received with great critical acclaim.
Ronis was born in Paris in 1910 to parents who owned a photographic studio in Montmartre, and it was here that his love of photography first developed. Following his father’s death in 1936, he sold the studio and began working as a photojournalist – a profession he passionately pursued until 2001, when he could no longer walk.
The exhibition spans all eight decades of Ronis’ prolific career, beginning with his early work in the pre-WW2 years covering topical events such as the great protest marches of 14th July 1936 and the workers’ strike at the Quai de Javel Citroën factory in 1938. A politically-committed man, and an active member of the Communist party, he continued to illustrate the social changes and struggles of his time throughout his life, ranging from industrial disputes to returning prisoners of war. Whether depicting picket lines and union militants or impoverished families and street workers, his sensitive, striking images demonstrate a true solidarity with the conditions and battles of the working-classes, and reveal an active commitment towards social outcasts.
Alongside his official assignments as a reporter, Ronis also enjoyed capturing the “slices of everyday life” of his family and friends, as well as strangers that he encountered on the street. Many of these captivating images are displayed in the exhibition, with subjects spanning Parisian lovers entwined on public benches to joyful children at the fairground. Although most of these photographs depict French scenes, the exhibition also features a large number of works executed on Ronis’ international travels to countries such as the Netherlands, the USA and Italy – including a series of ten previously-unseen images of Venice, where he first visited in 1938 as a photographer on a cruise ship.
At the end of his career, still faithful to his commitments, Ronis decided to donate his work to the French state, thereby putting his images – including over 108,000 negatives and 9,000 slides – at the service of the community. The photographs in this superb tribute exhibition are all drawn from the Médiathèque de l’Architecture e du Patrimoine collection that today houses his remarkable archive.
Willy Ronis. Photographs 1934-1998 is on view at the Casa dei Tre Oci until 6th January 2019.