The Vincent

          May 1997 issue                                                                  

When Vincent Perez Meets Willy Ronis

The actor meets the photographer, who has been his idol.

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Crazy about photographs, Vincent Perez has always carried those of Willy Ronis in his heart. He had wished to meet and photograph this master of visualizing. Photo was there when they met for the first time.

A bit of a wild youngster in his native Switzerland, Vincent Perez wanted to become a photographer. "I was 13 years old, and I would torture my younger sister, who was 9 at the time, by making her pose for me in the attic," he remembers. Meeting him in the intimate confines of a Vietnamese restaurant in the 20th Arrondissement, Willy Ronis, 87, smiles a little sadly. As an adolescent, he wanted to become a composer, but life's hazards made him become a photographer instead. Vincent Perez left photography to become an actor, without ever losing his love of the fixed image.

A Cesar for the optimistic lover in Cyrano de Bergerac, and partner of some very beautiful women - Catherine Deneuve in Indochine, Isabelle Adjani in Queen Margot, Emmanuelle Beart in Capitaine Fracasse - he is also one of the rare European actors who has seduced Hollywood.

In Paris in the midst of promoting his latest film, The Crow: City of Angels, he did not forget that the photographs of Willy Ronis, along with those of Doisneau, were what made him originally want to get to know Paris. From that came the decision to leave the television and computer sets to visit with the man who came to celebrate "70 Years of Clicks" in a Paris retrospective. And he wanted to take a photograph, as testimony to his affection and respect. Photo could not be insensitive to this desire. The photo session would be in a square in this corner of Paris where tranquil streets bear the names of theater actors, and where Willy Ronis has lived for a long time.

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The actor's car and chauffeur are left waiting in front of the photographer's house while the two men go to eat lunch first. It is an occasion for them to travel, between Pekinese soup and jasmine tea, throughout a history of this century in pictures where the exposures sometimes haven't been seen for several decades and make those emotions, which are always present, come to the surface. Thus, the "Nuit au Chalet", dated from 1935, less well known than "Le Nu Provencal " photographed in Gordes in 1949, was found by Vincent to be "erotic without being ambiguous." Willy swears that it is a reflection of his "first true love of all time," set by the lamp while their friends had gone out to ski under the moonlight. In his time, he was an independent photographer, already well known for his know-how and particularly accomplished in his depiction of social issues.

Also, when Perez cites as one of his favorite photos that of the "Greve Citroen-Javel pour la defense des droits" its author specifies that the exposure taken in 1938, was not printed until 1980, when he found his negative so overexposed, that he had judged it unusable at the time.  

Fashion, industry, celebrity, reporting, and portraits, Willy Ronis explored all fields of photography, while bringing a sense of composition, drawn from his musical and pictorial culture, that made it classic, and in which Vincent recognizes himself.  The two thus found that they were in agreement that “Locquirec Finistère”, a still life dated 1979, is a great success. 

As an adolescent, Vincent went to the celebrated photography school in Vevey , so the discussion could freely take a technical turn, where they would discuss focals, printing and centering, before the stories would start again from the beginning. The meeting would end with the student capturing a photograph of the master in the streets of Paris. Before Ronis could return the favor. Good blood couldn’t lie…
VINCENT - I wanted to become a photographer…
At the age of 15, I was the youngest in my class at the school of photography in Vevey, Switzerland. Photo retouching, portraits, architectural photos, these were three very strict techniques and I was very undisciplined. I did not receive a diploma, moreover, I don’t have any diplomas. I worked with a little Yashica camera, but I wanted to shoot moving pictures instead, so I left photography because I caught the acting bug.

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 Notebook and Camera…

Now, photography affects me in a cyclical manner, it’s the light that incites me. I am always thinking visually and I love to build a setting. When filming, my sketchbook serves as my apparatus, but I also amuse myself with a video camera. For example, in Indochine, I filmed 13 hours of video with which I made a 6 minute short film. I use a Contax, while dreaming of a Leica. One is always more sure with…

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A photo fixed in time...

It’s Andreï Tarkovsky, film enthusiast, who says about photography, it is fixed in time, sealed. A photo, it’s simple, you don’t have to plug it in, it’s there, one lives with it, and creates a rapport with it, one projects things onto it and those things reveal themselves…

 I love the nude… 

I love nudes, but I never did one. If I had to photograph a young woman, it would be someone I know. What interests me about the nude is the aspect of timelessness, like the one of Willy’s. He says he remembers with little contempt, the nude being sold… It’s true, but the photo is very popular, like a movie. One must accept and respect the wishes of people who pay for the magazine.

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Willy Ronis, Juergen Teller, Richard Avedon, Sebastiao Salgado, Steven Meisel…

I am fascinated with some very different personalities in photography.  Willy, but also Juergen Teller, who photographed me for Vogue. And Avedon, with whom I had a discussion about Orson Welles. Steven Meisel is very creative in fashion. Patrick Zachmann, whom I met while filming in Russia. And Salgado, the plastic technician of workmanship. And then, I have certain loves - French photography from the '40s, Robert Doisneau, Edouard Boubat, the Group 25 - all these types of photos from a time that has disappeared, have attracted me to Paris. As important as its genre, all great photography has a signature, a stamp, by which one can recognize it immediately just like all great movies.

A liking for Photo Magazine...

I appreciate Photo magazine for one simple reason: it makes me want to take photos!  I am curious about it, I love reporting, fashion, beautiful women, full-page photos, and portfolios. Then… 

Photography and Movies…

There is no real concurrence between photography and cinema, they are two different emotions. In my case, the photographic techniques I learned in Vevey helped me to do my work. I know what the problems are and instinctively, I know that without enough light, I must be right on the mark.  The leading light technicians must be aware of the displacement in the light: they like me very much, and I adore working with them, just like with the photographers.

[Written by Phillipe Gelas and kindly translated by Janette Sylvian]


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