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ONE PHOTO – ONE STORY

09.04.2021

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“In May of 1968 I was constantly in a state of stress. I never had time to sort through my photos in peace and quiet. When the demonstrators went to sleep, I had to go back to the agency to have my films developed, so that I could then make a selection. It was a gruesome schedule,” is how Barbey explains the situation in the photo book, Magnum Contact Sheets (Munich 2011). Having just returned from a long journey to South East Asia, the photographer was plunged directly into the battles on the streets of Paris. He was out day and night. He speaks about how his clothes smelt persistently of tear gas. The photographer was 27 years old and felt completely in sync with the protesters, who were demanding radical changes to society. As he recognised later, he was fascinated by the force of the movement, unable at first to maintain his usual distance.

The motif shown here was taken close to the Bastille, where there is still a cinema today at No. 12 Rue de Lyon. Police sur la ville was the French title of the American movie Madigan by Don Siegel, that had just been released when the riots were happening. The story actually takes place within the New York police scene, with lead actors Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda playing opponents within the repressive police hierarchy; yet in Barbey's picture, the film billboard, that had been pulled down and used as a barricade, became a symbol for the battles on the streets of Paris.  

“At the time there were practically no film cameras on hand, because French television was on strike – so it was still images that defined the day's events. Photography played a truly central role during those days,” Barbey remembered. “I had to quickly pick out pictures from the not particularly well-developed contact sheets; anything that looked interesting at a first glance.” It was not until forty years later, when selecting for an exhibition, that the photographer went through them with more care, discovering things he had overseen at first. And then, in 2018 – fifty years after the events of May 1968 – his pictures also appeared as a book: Au cœur de Mai 68 (Les Éditions du Pacifique). At that point, Barbey, who also became a full member of the Magnum Agency in 1968, had long been considered one of France's most renowned photographers, whose testimonial work has made history time and again. (Ulrich Rüter)

Image: © Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos

LFI 03/2021 presents a selection of Bruno Barbey's work in the Leica Classic segment.
© Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos

Bruno Barbey

Born in Berrechid, Morocco, in 1941, Barbey has French and Swiss citizenship. After studying at the École des Arts et Métiers in Vevey, Switzerland, the photographer lived in Paris. His pictures have been published in all the most important international magazines, and in over 30 photo books. He produced numerous documentary films together with his wife, Caroline Thiénot-Barbey. He had many exhibitions and received many honours, including the French National Order of Merit. In 2016 Barbey was made a member of the French Academy of Beaux Arts. He passed away in Roubaix on November 9, 2020.

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