Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Willy Ronis v. Flower Seller

with 3 comments

France might review a controversial photography law. IP looks back at one of the uglier episodes of its implementation.  

In 1999, Willy Ronis was sued for a photograph he had taken in 1947; that year, while covering grand Parisian markets, he had took a photo of a young flower seller named Jacqueline in Les Halles. In 1984, Ronis and the flower seller came into contact again through a mutual friend. Ronis remembers, “she kissed me and gave me flowers and we became almost close friends.” For years, she had the photograph framed in her shop.

But in the 1990s, the French legislation changed, pronouncing “ownership of one’s image”. This law — which was also retrospective  — is perhaps the most stringent privacy law ever enacted by any country. Manipulated by lawyers, as Ronis put it, the flowerseller successfully sued then 90-year-old photographer. Ronis was fined £2500, and his agency Rapho, somewhat more;  although he could still show the photo in exhibitions, the court banned Ronis from reproducing the photography in print media, lest the copies end up in France. So precise was this non-dissemination clause that when the Guardian interviewed him, he could not allow it to reprint the photo in Britain, in case copies reached across the channel. [1]

After he lost the case, Ronis memorably said, “Cette décision tue la mémoire”. He, however, agreed with some aspects of the law, while reflecting on the nature of photography [I translated]:

It is to say that young people need to be more attentive to the consequences of their photos…. Yet in my life I have never made ​​derogatory pictures of anyone. I’ve never had people in compromising situations. But people can now attack you if you did not asked for their permission. That this permission must be written authorization! If each time you take street photography, you will have to collect their authorizations with a ledger. No, that will be the end of the job!

I think the law will be modified because it is just too outrageous. Meanwhile, it is not just photographers who cannot rest easy, but also this country’s historical memory too. Photography matters in modern history.


[1]  For this reason, Iconic Photos itself is not entirely sure whether the photo depicted above was the photo in question. If not, it must be a pretty similar innocuous picture.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 27, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Society

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. The commented law is completely out of sense. Hope this kind of decisions don’t cross to this continent. We have enough with police and politicians.


    August 27, 2012 at 10:38 pm

  2. Another Good Reason to spend my Euros in some other European Country!

    The French Suck and and need a good ass-Kicken. The French are Selfish, ungrateful ass-hats! Want to be like NAZIS, Do they? Maybe we should O’ Left the NAZIS in charge O’ their country and saved all the lives Of our G.I.’s that died so THEY could have FREEDOM???!!!

    Everybody got a right to privacy but If you are doing something out in PUBLIC, then you take your chances, thats what I say.

    Your Obt. Svt.
    Col Korn,
    Chief O’ Mayhem in the Great WW-2 (And the Cold War)
    Now Chief O’ Security, Sanitation (And the Complaint Dept.)
    OXOjamm Studios.

    Col. Korn

    August 28, 2012 at 9:45 am

    • Dear Col Korn, I love you too, regards from France.

      Loïc Jaouen

      August 31, 2012 at 7:30 am

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