WILLY RONIS talks about Henri Cartier-Bresson:
image holds a special meaning for me on several
levels. I spent a lot of time on the banks of
the Marne in the thirties and forties, doing reportages,
and continued to visit over the next twenty years
with my late wife. She was a very keen walker
and we used to stroll for hours along the river;
I still hop in a train sometimes to visit this
place which is so full of memories.
The scene you see here also means a great deal
to French people as a whole, particularly my own
generation but also each one that follows. It
marks the beginning of national paid holidays,
which has changed the life of all French workers
I think that Henri’s work had a lot of influence
on 20th Century photography, but for me personally
a little less! I became a photographer by accident
rather than by vocation; it wasn’t based
on admiration for any other photographer and I
didn’t favour anyone in particular.
In 1936, just before I became a photographer,
I met Henri and saw his work but it wasn’t
really then that it impressed me as such. I was
introduced to the work of Capa and Chim at the
same time and became great friends with Capa;
Henri was more of a secret.
It was only after the war, when I had really become
a photographer, that I recognised something important
that we shared. The composition that is so dear
to Henri is also a big part of my work. Henri’s
source was always painting; mine was Breugel,
the Flemish Masters and music, with the counterpoint
of J.S. Bach.
Of course the fact that Henri didn’t influence
me personally doesn’t diminish the admiration
I always had for him. For me he is the single
most influential figure in twentieth century photography.
Indeed, along with André Kertész
and Bill Brandt, I believe he is one of the three
great names of photography of our time.
Willy Ronis, Paris, July 2003
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