Goodbye Willy Ronis – photos from Arles 2009


Willy Ronis talking at Rencontres d'Arles Photography 2009 © Lisa Barber, Arles 2009

Willy Ronis was one of the stars of Arles this year and could be seen taking part in panel debates, book signings (where I got my Photo Poche signed, see earlier post) and giving a tour of a retrospective of his work. Willy reminisced about events in a career that spanned decades and gave an insight into the production of many of his iconic photographs. His recollections were delivered with charm and a wonderful sense of humour. I must have been lost in a vortex (of my own making) over the last week, as I only found out a few days ago that the legendary documentary photographer had died in a Paris hospital aged 99. In tribute to the photographer, I am posting some photographs taken in Arles this year when Nan Goldin chanced upon Willy in the Place de Forum (the main square) and asked to take a photo. Seeing the two of them together, with their vastly different photographic backgrounds and approaches, was interesting, and though Nan says her work is not about photography (earlier post), it is photography that united them.

“I never took a mean photo,” Ronis remarked in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, noted in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news story. “I never wanted to make people look ridiculous. I always had a lot of respect for the people I photographed.”

The photos that follow show Nan Goldin, who was also in Arles, approaching Willy to ask if she could take a photograph of him. Inevitably, the combination of Nan and Willy together drew onlookers and caused other photographers to then photograph Nan shooting Willy (which seemed to disturb Nan).

Although I made lots of notes during the tour of his exhibition, one question from the audience, which I am recounting from memory, showed Willy rise to the occasion (no pun intended):

Of the photographs you have taken over your life, which is your favourite?

To which Willy replied: Would you ask a mother which of her children is her favourite?

We all laughed. Apart from his huge photographic legacy, this is one of the anecdotes I will remember from him.


Nan Goldin asks Willy Ronis if she can take his photograph © Lisa Barber, Arles 2009


The moment passes as other people approach Nan and Willy © Lisa Barber, Arles 2009


3 responses to “Goodbye Willy Ronis – photos from Arles 2009

  1. These are terrific pictures. I loved the one of the diver by the ship – Icarus? I saw so many links to paintings here.

    And thanks also for the quotes.

    The perfect lesson from Ronis: never take a mean photo.

    • Thanks, yes, there is a flavour of Icarus to that photo. Seeing Ronis’s exquisite black and white photographs (beautifully printed) was a treat and the fact that for many of the photos he only took two or three shots before he got the one.

  2. Pingback: Never take a mean photo « Nuff said

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