Willy Ronis-Views of Belleville Menilmontant in Paris

Looking for china, found photos instead

Carré de Baudouin back of Pavillon Carré Rue des Pyrenees and rue de Menilmontant-Willy Ronis exhibit poster
Carré de Baudouin back of Pavillon Carré Rue des Pyrenees and rue de Menilmontant-Willy Ronis exhibit poster

Sometimes a photo can make us curious, inspire us or wish we could find something…. By the time my sister saw the photos of my vintage chinaware, it was too late. I had already donated the set to Emmaus. I needed it back for her!

The trek to one of the Emmaus stores (Goodwill-style shops founded in 1954 by Abbé Pierre) took me to the north of Paris and the Porte de Menilmontant in the 20th arrondissement. “If I am going to the 20th”, I pondered, “why not check out local art exhibits in the area?” That thought and a quick look at l’Official des spectacles, took me to the Le Pavillon Carré de Baudouin and the photo exhibit “Willy Ronis par Willy Ronis (until January 2, 2019)“.

I never found the China but I found an exhibit that took me some time to view because of the number of images (over 200) and the interesting subject matter (Ronis’s empathy to character in each of Ronis’s images). The exhibit has attracted over 30,000 visitors since it opened four months ago.

Memories of the past

Trees on rue des Pyrenees give that countryside feel

Belleville and Menilomtant are in an area that was long ignored by Parisians, until “Willy Ronis discovered it in 1947”. Some of his images reminded me of times past in my Bastille neighborhood: the cry and image of the vitrier (window repair man) and the bois à charbon café across the street from our apartment building.

Willy Ronis image of the vitrier 1948
Vitrier, who repaired windows, had a mantra crying “Vitrier … vitrier!” The window replacement service is now available on the internet

The vitrier carried his window glass in a frame on his back. Twice a month, he walked down the center of our narrow street. He cried out musically, “vitrier! vitrier!” A recording of his song is long gone. We invited him up once to repair one of our broken panes. Those panes were eventually replaced with double pane windows. His cry was replaced by the traffic noise on our narrow street. The vitrier of today is now on the internet.

Willy Ronis photo of Cafe bois de charbon (for wine, coal, food and coffee,1948
Cafe bois de charbon (for wine, coal, food and coffee

When we moved in to our apartment with its old panes of glass, the four story building across the street was home to a few squatters. A gas explosion in the school had condemned the building and the attached café . Traditionally, the natives of Auvergne (or bougnats) ran all the Parisian charbon (coal) depots, where they sold coal, wine and coffee. Only a homeless man occupied the condemned entry for several years. He is long gone. The condemned school has been replaced by a the school and its modern glass structure. 

Willy Ronis visitor walking up stairs for the exhibit

This types of replacement appear during the exhibition. During one of the exhibition films “Une Journée avec Willy Ronis” (A day with Willy Ronis), Ronis revisits his published images. The fade in-fade out effect takes the viewer from scenes of the 1940s and 1950s to the same place but different view in 1984.

In the second room are some of his first Kodak moments from 1926 (aged 16) to 1936 with his first Kodak camera. Up the stairs the visit continues with self portraits and nudes from 1949 to 2002. Ronis took me around the world of the working population from 1936 to 1950; and showed me the provinces, around France, Europe, more of Paris and introduced me to his family photo moments. (Click on photos to open in larger format.)

What’s for sale

Willy Ronis exhibition Photo album in English and French for sale at exhibition

A small format photo album of the exhibit is available in English and French for 9.90 euros. QR codes on many of the photo labels take you to a website where photos can be purchased. The exhibit itself is free.

Luckily I had my camera with me. I left exhibit inspired to play Willy Ronis. I walked along rue des Pyrenées toward the metro Jourdain. Through the viewfinder I was finding shots and also  found myself waiting for shots and shadows. It was fun to be inspired and turn some of the color photos into black and white and capture scenes that were gone in an instant.

History of the pavilion, its style and use

Le Pavillon Carré de Baudouin
119 Rue de Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris
Open Times: Tuesday to Saturday 1100-1800

Inspired to play Willy Ronis