The Telegraph says he was more artistic than Doisneau and less patrician than Cartier-Bresson; like those masters to whom he is frequently compared, Willy Ronis embodied the Golden Age of photography, where photojournalists composed lyrical odes to world-changing events and banal everyday lives alike.
Ronis was best known for a nude of his wife, Marie-Anne Lansiaux, bending over a sink in a rustic bathroom. The photo was almost like a Bonnard painting and reflected that easy rustic feel of country life. Ronis remembered:
We had a little stone cottage at Gordes. It was a hot summer, and I was repairing the attic. I needed a trowel, so I came down and there was Marie-Anne standing naked on the stone flags, washing herself from the tin basin. ‘Don’t move,’ I said and, my hands full of plaster, I grabbed my Rolleiflex and took four shots. It was the second shot which I chose.
It took two minutes in all. Miracles exist, I experienced it. I have never been so anxious as when I developed that film. I felt that, if the image was good, technically and aesthetically, it would be a major moment in my life, a prosaic moment of extraordinary poetry.”
He met the jewel painter, Marie-Anne,when both of them fled to Provence after the German Occupation of France in 1940. They were married after the war, when he also joined the French Communists at the urging of Marie-Anne, who was more militantly political.
Soon afterwards, they bought the above cottage in a Provençal town known for its artist communes. Willy divided his career between the countryside and the capital, gradually becoming a world-renowned photographer. The couple lived in that small cottage until Marie-Anne’s death in 1991, by which time Ronis’s career had come a full circle: in his last major work, he photographed Marie-Anne, now with Alzheimer’s, sitting alone in a park surrounded by autumn trees in a touching collection of photographs chronicled her gradual decline and increasing isolation.
Ronis died in 2009.