I met ANDRE VILLERS for the first time when I was 7 years old. It was at that time that he took this photograph of my family.
My father had met André in France in 1968 and in 1969 he organized André's first exhibition outside of France: in Prague, the capital of then communist Czechoslovakia.
But André's story goes way back in history...
In 1946, 16-year old André Villers was dying when he was transferred to the medical center in Vallauris in the south of France right after World War 2 ended.
He was suffering from bone tuberculosis and doctors didn't give him much hope.
He was in a full body cast for nearly 5 years!!!
He could hardly move at all, lying in bed all day and listening to jazz music.
It was thanks to the newly introduced penicillin that he slowly recovered and eventually was able to walk again.
And to discover life again...
He took on photography lessons and soon, photography became his passion, alongside jazz.
When André was 23, he was walking around the town of Vallauris, taking pictures. He took a photograph of an older man. The next day, André developed the photo and took it back to show it to the man. The man shook his head and said, "I like it. You're talented, kid. Now come with me, I'll show you what I do."
And the man took André to his workshop where there were paintings, sculptures and ceramic objects all around. Young André was mesmerized. This man was Pablo Picasso!
After that first encounter, Picasso allowed André to come to his workshop and take photos anytime he wanted. That was the beginning of a new friendship.
Through Picasso, André was introduced to painters such as Chagall, Dali, Fernand Léger, Hartung or Magnelli, filmmakers Bunuel and Fellini, poet and writer Jacques Prévert, singer Leo Ferré, architect Le Corbusier and many others...
He has photographed them all and has never boasted about it. Throughout his life, André kept a low profile, even though his photographs are known worldwide.
Together with Picasso and Prévert, they did a collective work made of Picasso's and André's photocollages accompanied by poetic texts by Prévert. The album was called DIURNES and it was published in 1962.
At that time, André also met and became friends with fellow photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Robert Doisneau and David Douglas Duncan.
Nowadays, André still takes photographs and develops them himself but for many years, he has been experimenting with different photographic and other visual art forms, doing cut-outs and collages of all shapes and sizes, and playing with photographic emulsion and revealer in his lab.
He always knows how to put a touch of humor in his works!
His play with light and shadows has been a constant experimentation in his work over the years, and even now, at 82 years old.
André Villers is a fully-fledged artist. And this is his story.
A documentary film produced and directed by Marketa Tomanova.