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“Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world,” was Barbey’s motto. During his many decades of work, he travelled to all five continents, witnessing numerous crises and conflicts. He took pictures in Nigeria, Vietnam, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Kuwait; even so, he never considered himself a “war” reporter. His humanist eye was always turned towards the people, victims of political and ethnic conflict trying to survive under the toughest of conditions.

Barbey was born in Berrechid, Morocco, on February 13, 1941. After going to school in Paris, he studied Photography and Graphic Art at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Vevey, Switzerland. “I started taking photographs as an 18-year-old, with the desire to have human contact, to travel, to engage with different cultures - to express my sensibility,” Barbey explained. At that time he also photographed portraits for Vogue: “people who I was interested in: authors, painters, sculptors, film-makers”. The various series about Italy and the Italians, taken with a Leica M between 1961 and 1964, brought him his first recognitions. “I photographed there whenever I could, over several years, sometimes on assignment, but mostly on my own. The aim was to try and capture the spirit of the place. I was fascinated by Italian neo-realist film directors such as Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Visconti,” he once said. It was largely due to the pictures from Italy that he became a member of the Magnum Agency at 25 years of age. However, the photo book, The Italians, was not to be published till decades later (2002).

Barbey became a full member of the Agency in 1968, served as Vice President for Europe in 1978/79, and was President of Magnum International from 1992 to 1005. Olivia Arthur, the current President of the Agency, has the following to say about him. “Remembered by his colleagues as a sophisticated and suave man, he was also generous with his time and thoughtful about the situations that he spent time covering, which ranged from global wars to the streets of Morocco, the country of his birth. His pictures are full of life and his legacy will live on in them. He will be greatly missed.”

In addition to his early photographs in black and white, Barbey produced numerous colour series, many of which were taken in Morocco where he was born, and are considered among his most important works. He returned to Morocco various time: “I cannot really explain why I am drawn to Morocco. I was born there, and I feel at home there. Although I am using colour in an abstract way, for me making pictures there is not only about the pleasure of aesthetics. It's also the people and the culture that fascinates me.” His Morocco pictures were most recently exhibited in the spring of 2019, at the Leica Gallery in Istanbul. His more recent photo projects took him in particular to China.

Barbey received many awards for his work, including the French National Order of Merit. His photographs have been exhibited around the world and are included in the collections of numerous museums; he has published over 30 photo books. On April 13, 2016, Barbey was admitted into the French Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Bruno Barbey passed away on November 9, in the town of Roubaix, in northern France.

All images on this page: © Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos
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