Israëlis Bidermanas, who worked under the name of Izis, was a Lithuanian-Jewish photographer who worked in France and is best known for his photographs of French circuses and of Paris.
Born in Marijampol, present-day Lithuania, Bidermanas arrived in France in 1930 to become a painter. In 1933 he directed a photographic studio in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris. During World War II, being a Jew, he had to leave occupied Paris. He went to Ambazac, in the Limousin, where he adopted the pseudonym Izis and where he was arrested and tortured by the Nazis. He was freed by the French Resistance and became an underground fighter. At that time he photographed his companions, including Colonel Georges Guingouin. The poet and underground fighter Robert Giraud was the first to write about Izis in the weekly magazine Unir, a magazine created by the Resistance.
Upon the liberation of France at the end of World War II, Izis had a series of portraits of maquisards (rural resistance fighters who operated mainly in southern France) published to considerable acclaim. He returned to Paris where he became friends with French poet Jacques Prévert and other artists. Izis became a major figure in the mid-century French movement of humanist photography - also exemplified by Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau and Ronis - with "work that often displayed a wistfully poetic image of the city and its people."
For his first book, Paris des rêves (Paris of Dreams), Izis asked writers and poets to contribute short texts to accompany his photographs, many of which showed Parisians and others apparently asleep or daydreaming. The book, which Izis designed, was a success. Izis joined Paris Match in 1950 and remained with it for twenty years, during which time he could choose his assignments.
Meanwhile, his books continued to be popular with the public. Among the numerous books by Izis, Gerry Badger and Martin Parr have especial praise for Le Cirque d'Izis (The Circus of Izis), "published in 1965, but bearing the stamp of an earlier era". Shot mostly in Paris but also in Lyon, Marseille and Toulon, the photographs are "affectionate and nostalgic, but also deeply melancholic" with "a desolate undercurrent", forming a work that is "profound, moving and extraordinary".