Part 8 – The Rule Making Epoch: Izis
Israëlis “Izis” Bidermanas (Lithuania) – 1911 to 1980
Israëlis Bidermanas, who worked under the name Izis, was a Lithuanian-Jewish photographer who made his mark photographing Paris from the 1930s through the 1970s. He was part of the French humanist movement, a clever term for mostly street shooters that focused on scenes of everyday Parisian life, often displayed with what is often described as a poetic energy. Though his work was masterful, he never achieved the fame of contemporaries Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or even Willy Ronis or Brassaï (to be detailed later).
Izis was born in Lithuania, then oppressed by Tsarist Russia, in 1911. He fled his country at age 19, arriving penniless but grateful in Paris, with the intention of becoming a painter. Instead, he took up his first camera a year later, in 1931, around the same time as Cartier-Bresson. Within two years, he was directing a photographic studio in Paris. His street work began during the same time, and would continue until the outbreak of WWII.
Being Jewish, he was forced to flee Paris with his wife and three-year-old son, due to the approaching German occupation of France. He and his family were luckily given refuge by farmers in a village near Limoges. The remainder of his family weren’t so fortunate. Izis’s parents and brother, who’d stayed behind in Lithuania, were murdered during the mass extermination of Jews by Shitler’s Nazis. He went to Ambazac, in the Limousin region, where he adopted the pseudonym Izis. There he was arrested and tortured by the Nazis, until freed by French Resistance forces. Izis joined the Resistance earning his keep by photographing Resistance fighters. These shots of young fighters established him as a “name” in photography. Still, his losses infused Izis with a sadness that would affect his later work.
“I would say his work had a form of poetic sadness. He believed that we were all, deep down, quite fragile.” – Manuel Bidermanas, Izis’s son.
Izis returned to Paris and opened a small studio, also working for Paris Match magazine, where he stayed until 1969. He published several books of photos, and in 1951, was finally invited to display his work alongside Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, Ronis, and Brassaï in an exhibition at MoMA in New York. He continued to work, shooting in the Parisian streets in the 1950s, and Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. Izis died at his home in Paris in 1980, at the age of 69.