150 works by French humanist photographer Willy Ronis, who would have turned 100 this year.
The photos were/are terrific, but… Needless to say, and as we found out while touring the exhibit, the "humanist" descriptive is shorthand for communist. Indeed, for communist militant. For communist militant who photographed workers' strikes, leftist demonstrations, and other social conflicts and who traveled to East Germany to show the French that life behind the Iron Curtain was as normal as that in France.
What's more, we soon learned from the exhibit's captions that by 1947 — only two years after the end of the war — French photographers were in demand because Americans (i.e., American photographers) were personae non gratae in French workers' working places!
American reporters … were often unwelcome in places with social conflict — the Cold War had started — and to cover this type of story, Life often had to turn to French photographers.To recap:
• A photographer (i.e., a "passive" job) and a communist militant =
a hero (then and today — i.e., witness the very existence of
exhibits like this one), someone to be welcomed with open arms.
• Americans = causes of international hostility, unsavory people
who deserve (!) to be scorned and to be made felt unwelcome.
Isn't it rewarding to realize — this a couple of years after "nos amis américains" stormed the beaches of Normandy to proceed towards the liberation of Paris and the rest of Europe —
1) whom it is that the French consider a hero and
2) whom it is, conversely, that they consider uncouth and unwelcome in their midst?