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Directory of Notable Photographers

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (1911-80)

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) was born in Lithuania. From an early age he was fascinated by painting, and he left his Hebrew language school at 13 to be apprenticed to a photographer. Once trained, he spent three years wandering the country and photographing. He arrived in Paris, drawn by it being the city of the Impressionists in 1931, penniless and without any passport or other papers, and not speaking a single word of French.

After some weeks of living more or less on the streets he got a job in a photo studio, then open his own, becoming successful at highly posed professional portraiture. This paid the bills and allowed him to spend his spare time in art galleries.

When the Germans invaded he had to flee and go into hiding near Limoges. Eventually he was captured and beaten up with the French fighting them, and met the resistance leaders who had liberated the town. He asked if he could photograph them, but when they turned up to have their pictures taken all carefully dressed and clean-shaven he realised that the kind of formal portraiture he had practiced before the war was completely false. He persuaded them to be photographed as he had first seen them, desperate heroes in filthy clothes, fresh from the battle.

The pictures he produced were a sensation in Limoges. When he returned to Paris he was introduced to Brassai and was encouraged by him and others. Within a few months he had produced enough pictures for his first real exhibition in 1946.

Although this made him well known, it made no money, and he realised needed to get his work published. From 1950, his work was used regularly by Paris Match, and his first book, 'Paris des Rêves (Paris Enchanted) came up in 1951.

For 'Paris Match' he photographed many writers and artists, becoming friends with many of them. In particular he became very close to the painter Marc Chagall, and they spent many hours walking round Paris together. Jacques Prévert also became a good friend and again they often walked around the city together. Prévert wrote the text for several of his books.

Izis was a great dreamer and a wanderer both of the streets and in his mind. He believed in photographs that seemed simple, but were in fact full of ambience, a 'poetic realism' that was much in vogue. His vision was gentle and warm without being sentimental. He photographed lovers, children at play, the circus, all seen with a freshness and playfulness.

Izis didn't like to leave Paris, but made two exceptions to produce books on other places. His pictures in Israel from visits in 1952-4 reflect some of the optimism of the people building a new country. He also came to London to photograph several times in the early 50's (producing a fine book, with text by Jacques Prévert). His pictures here capture the mood of the London fogs and the people; the best-known shows a man in a wasted East-End street lost in the simple pleasure of blowing bubbles.

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