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Remembering Bruno Barbey Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

17 November 2020

The French photographer Bruno Barbey, who was notably a citizen of the world, died suddenly last week from a pulmonary embolism in Orbais l-Abbaye, France. He was 79. His work captured the ubiquity of both civil conflict and common beauty.

Barbey was born in Berrechid, Morocco, in 1941. His father was a diplomat who, with his mother, raised him in various parts of the country. That engendered a love of travel in the boy, who admired the adventures of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

He attended high school in Paris before studying photography and graphic arts at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Switzerland in 1959 and 1960. In the 1960s he won a commission to photograph in Europe and Africa for Editions Rencontre in Lausanne.

His first major photographic project was The Italians, a collection of images made between 1961 and 1964 and published in 2002. Barbey had been inspired by Robert Frank's The Americans even down to the detail of buying a car to tour the country.

'Let's admit it, we are the hunters of souls.'

In 1964 he started working with Magnum, becoming an associate in 1966 and full member in 1968 when he photographed the student riots in Paris. He shot those images mostly at night without flash. And he wore a helmet.

"I've never seen such violence in a western capital as I saw in Paris that month," Barbey said about that time.

He pioneered the use of color film in photojournalism shooting for Vogue in Brazil in 1966 to deal with the heat and humidity there.

From 1979 to 1981 he photographed the rise of the Solidarity trade union in Poland, collecting his images in the 1982 photo book Poland. He also covered civil unrest in Nigeria, Vietnam, the Middle East, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Kuwait and Bangladesh.

Throughout his life he would return to Morocco to take photos. His homeland was a difficult subject, he confessed, because the camera was confused with the evil eye. He didn't entirely disagree. "Let's admit it, we are the hunters of souls," Barbey said in a 2017 speech at the Turkish-German Film Festival.

"You have to be cunning as a fox, well organized and respect some customs," he said. "The photographer must learn to merge into the walls. Photos must either be taken swiftly, with all the attendant risks or only after long periods of infinite patience. Such was the price of these images."

He served as Magnum vice president for Europe in 19778 and 1979 and president of Magnum International from 1992 to 1995.

Widely exhibited, he received the French National Order of Merit and was elected a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts, Institut de France, in 2016.

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