Cartier-Bresson in Paris, 1968

 

Cartier-Bresson produced one of his greatest reportages during the student protests in Paris during the late 1960s. In recent years, his fame and prestige had rapidly increased. In 1967 the Louvre exhibited 200 of his photographs of France, cementing his reputation as the preeminent photographer of the moment. In May 1968, nearly 6000 student demonstrators and 1500 gendarmes flocked the streets of Paris to protest, which resulted in 10 million French workers striking, and the national economy freezing.

As Paris was gripped by chaos, Cartier-Bresson captured some of the key events, including the occupation of the Sorbonne and the sit-in at the Gare d’Austerlitz. Although he supported the students in their protest, the photographs he took as events unfolded are typically irreverent in their focus on humorous details and overlooked scenes. In this photograph a man rides a bicycle with a woman standing on the back holding a tricolour. They look towards a large crowd gathered further up the Champs-Elysees as the Arc de Triomphe looms in the background. Whilst much of the photojournalism that emerged during the events of May ’68 documents the demonstrations as dramatic, uncontrollable surges of unrest, this photograph is eerily calm.

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