Out of the ordinary

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The Independent Culture
Think of the archetypal French lyrical documentary photographer and you're likely to cite Henri Cartier-Bresson orRobert Doisneau. Not many people would think of Willy Ronis, and yet this underrated Parisian lensman has, and is still, producing some of the most evocative pictures of his native city you are likely to come across.This poetic, yet inherently political photographer's work can now be appreciated nationwide with an Oxford Museum of Modern Art exhibition, "Willy Ronis: Photographs 1926- 1995, now touring the country and opening in Warwick tomorrow.

Born in 1910, the son of British immigrants to France, Ronis's mother was a Lithuanian music teacher, his father the owner of a photographic shop in Paris. Ronis says that he grew up fascinated by art and music and determined to be a composer, but became more and more interested in photography "despite myself". As early as 1926, he had begun to assemble an archive on Parisian street life.

Ronis, like Doisneau, was drawn to "ordinary" people. A former member of the French Communist party, his work displays a very real sense of comradeship with his subjects - the workers, artisans and shopkeepers of the Parisian quarters. But Ronis did not limit himself to the Parisian streets. During the war, he escaped to Provence to avoid the anti-Jewish racial laws of Occupied France and in 1946, he joined the same photo agency - Rapho - as Robert Doisneau and began to take photographs of a country starting to put itself back together again after Occupation.

Characterised by exquisite composition and biting social observation, it's hard to believe that this stunning archive of photographs has remained a virtual secret for so long.

Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (01203 524524) tomorrow to 16 Mar. Willy Ronis will be talking about his life and work at the Mead Gallery, 1.10pm Tue 9 Jan

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