The great French Jewish photographer Willy Ronis died last year at age 99, and until August 22, his centenary exhibit “Willy Ronis: the Poetics of Engagement” (“Willy Ronis, une poétique de l’engagement”) can be seen, oddly enough, at the Paris Mint, la Monnaie de Paris.
Whereas Ronis was a left-wing defender of the downtrodden working poor, la Monnaie trumpets materialistically on its English-language website: “If you are a passionate collector of gold medals or if you have a coin collection, you should keep in touch with the world of collections, gifts and jewels.” Nonetheless, the Ronis exhibit is beautifully humane, and a splendid catalog from the Paris art publisher Democratic Books conveys the essence of why Ronis, of Lithuanian Russian Jewish ancestry, was so universally loved.
The catalog includes familiar images of working class travails, like “Rose Zehner, Strike at the Javel-Citroën Factory, 1938.” Yet there also lesser-seen treasures like a charming 1955 series of photos taken in London, showing hearty, hefty pub denizens who might appear to be French, except that instead of wine, they quaff pints of Guinness.
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