This was one of those rare exhibitions that changed my whole way of looking at the world. When I came out onto the street (Rue de Ménilmontant) I had the feeling that everything I looked at was unique or quirky or distinctive or funny — or that it was iconic or symbolic or typical or full of hidden significance or whatever.
OK, the feeling wore off after a while, but it was magic while it lasted.
Willy Ronis (1910-2009) was a French photographer who grew up in the Montmartre district of Paris, where his father, a Jewish refugee from Odessa, had a small photography studio. After his father’s death in 1936, Ronis sold the studio and started working as a free-lance photographer. He soon became well-known for his photos of working-class life on the streets of Paris (like the one of the little boy with the big baguette), as well as his photos of strikes and demonstrations. He was active as a photographer for over sixty-five years, until he had to stop at age 91 because he needed a cane to walk, so he no longer had both hands free for his cameras. In later years he went through his photos and selected the ones to be included in albums and expositions.
Ronis was not a specialist in nude photography, particularly, but he did take a few nude photos over the years, and the exposition included a small room with some of his favorites. The one on the right is Nu provençal (Provençal nude) from the year 1949, showing his wife Marie-Anne Lansiaux in their house near Avignon.
The only opera photo in the exposition was this one from the Opéra Garnier in the year 1947, showing — typically for Ronis — some people working there, rather than the architecture or the spectators.
The title Les dessous de l’Opéra is a play on words because the word dessous can mean either underwear or underneath. The woman being raised up onto the stage is dressed only in her underwear and the photo was taken underneath the stage, featuring two of the stage hands who were working there.
The exposition was held in the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin at the corner of Rue de Ménilmontant and Rue des Pyrénées in the (not very affluent) 20th arrondissement of Paris. As with all expositions at this venue, there was no admission charge, in order to “make culture accessible to the largest possible public.” The front façade of the pavilion faces onto a small park.
Since no Vélib’ bikes were available (more about that problem some other time) I decided to take the number 96 bus back into town. More and more people gathered at the magic bus stop (magic because I was still under the influence of the Willy Ronis exhibition) but no buses came. Eventually one of the young women consulted an app on her smart phone and informed us that no buses would be coming because the bus drivers on this line were on strike.
So I started walking downhill and soon came upon a small bistro which was called exactly that, The Small Bistro (Le P’tit Bistro), where I had lunch at one of the outdoor tables. Their plat du jour (today’s special) was a tasty lamb skewer, which I ate while watching all the people walking by who might otherwise have taken the bus.
Another magic thing I saw (before the magic feeling wore off) was this small colorful theater on Rue du Retrait with an interesting-looking selection of plays on their schedule. (I’ll try to see a play there sometime.)
My photos and text in this post are from 2018.
See also: Belleville.