The France 24 website has a lovely slideshow tribute to the last, truly great, mid- century French photographer, Willy Ronis.
I have always loved his work for it’s romantic but humanist perspective. The beautiful, evocative portrait of his wife, the Leftist artist Marie-Anne Lansiaux, at the sink – Nu Provençal (1949) is deservedly one of the most famous images in photography.
We used to distribute Rapho’s images at Network and I could never quite get over the thrill of being able to look into that extraordinary archive.
The last word to Ronis though who said that ‘to transform chaos into harmony is the constant quest of the seekers of images’.
I’m not a superstitious person but I am currently looking over my shoulder rather warily… One day last week, AFP’s finest Findlay Kember had a temperature of 105 and at dawn, annoyingly, started shaking like a leaf. Somewhat perturbed by this, his wife, the lovely Athing, managed to stumble in the dark to my door for assistance whereupon I went and gave him a stern talking to for disturbing us both. In the process, she managed to fracture a bone in her foot… The two patients are pictured here in their lovely room in Delhi’s Max Hospital, Saket.
I have the pleasure to report that on a recent assignment back in Delhi, I again sampled the delights of the Indian Coffee House on Baba Karak Singh Marg that I wrote about some time ago. Despite the threats to it’s existence, it seems in rude and shambolic health and I can attest to the power of it’s rather watery coffee and good conversation. I whipped in for an hour, as usual after shooting something else and the general opinion from the clientelle was, “… Close? Over my dead body…”.
In a packed hour, I met a man called Achilles, was lectured on peace in Nagaland and inevitably answered the question ‘from which country are you from’. I answer as always, ‘not Australia’ (many people take my strangulated East London drawl to be from the Outback for some reason…).
It’s been some weeks since the lives of two of the world’s oldest men came to a close. I’ve been out of the country a good deal recently and missed the chance to comment on Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, both veterans of ‘the war to end all wars‘. However, this morning, I noticed that the Hackney Gazette carried a story that Hackney Council is going to name a street after Allingham as he was born, like me, in Clapton.
I never met Allingham but I photographed Patch years ago for a Swiss Magazine whose name I’m afraid escapes me. Without criticism, it was Patch, buried without the military pomp that intrigued me more.
What stuck me about him was that he was a very, very ordinary man that by dint of a genetic fluke had lived on to become, very reluctantly, a living symbol of the Great War. An everyman. The Last Tommy. He seemed to me almost guilty about surviving and I suppose that isn’t uncommon for veterans who have seen their comrades fall. What was extraordinary was that he never spoke about the war until he was 100. When he did speak about it, it was to condemn utterly the futility and cruelty of what he had seen. I remember him, rasping in a soft, slow West country burr, how when he and his comrades were forced to open up on advancing Germans, they’d made a pact to try and shoot for their legs in order to avoid killing them. That to me seemed absurdly brave. His criticism of war (recently enshrined in a tribute by the band Radiohead) was no less telling. ‘Give your leaders each a gun and let them fight it out themselves…”.