Willy Ronis was born August 14, 1910 in Paris. His father, a Jewish refugee from Russia, opened a photo studio in Montmartre and his mother, a Jewish refugee from Lithuania, taught piano lessons. At a young age, Ronis expressed a strong passion for music, which is visible in his depictions of life in post-war Paris, but his childhood dreams of becoming a composer were put on hold while participating in the military in 1932. Upon return, do to his father’s illness, Ronis took over the family photo studio, but after his father’s death sold it to become a freelance photographer. In 1937 he met David Seymour and Robert Capa, and did his first work for Plaisir de France. Soon after, he became a member of the great Parisian group of documentary photographers that included Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Within his well-composed black and white imagery, Willy Ronis captured the simple pleasures of everyday life. He became the first French photographer to work for Life Magazine.
In 1953, Edward Steichen included Ronis, Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Izis, and Brassaï in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art entitled Five French Photographers. In 1955, Ronis was included in the The Family 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 continued to live and work in Paris until he stopped practicing photography in 2001. In 2005, the Paris City Hall held a retrospective of his work that attracted more than 500,000 visitors over the course of a year. In 2009, the same year of his death, an exhibition was held at the Rencontres d’Arles festival.