Willy Ronis was a French photographer, the best-known of whose work shows life in post-war Paris and Provence.
Ronis was born in Paris; his father was a Jewish refugee from Odessa, and his mother was a refugee from Lithuania, both escaped from the pogroms. His father opened a photography studio in Montmartre, and his mother gave piano lessons. The boy's early interest was music and he hoped to become a composer. Returning from compulsory military service in 1932, his violin studies were put on hold because his father's cancer required Ronis to take over the family portrait business; Ronis' passion for music has been observed in his photographs. His father died in 1936, whereupon the business collapsed and Ronis went freelance, his first photographs being published in Regards. In 1937 he met David Szymin and Robert Capa, and did his first work for Plaisir de France; in 1938–39 he reported on a strike at Citroën and traveled in the Balkans. With Cartier-Bresson, Ronis belonged to Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires, and remained a man of the left.
The work of photographers, Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams inspired Ronis to begin exploring photography. After his father's death, in 1936, Ronis closed the studio and joined the photo agency Rapho, with Brassaï, Robert Doisneau and Ergy Landau.
Ronis became the first French photographer to work for Life. In 1953, Edward Steichen included Ronis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Izis, and Brassaï in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art titled Five French Photographers. In 1955, Ronis was included in the Family of Man exhibition. The Venice Biennale awarded him its Gold Medal in 1957. Ronis began teaching in the 1950s, and taught at the School of Fine Arts in Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Saint Charles, Marseilles. In 1979 he was awarded the Grand Prix des Arts et Lettres for Photography by the Minister for Culture. Ronis won the Prix Nadar in 1981 for his photobook, Sur le fil du hasard.