In May and August of 1968 two very different uprisings took place on the streets of two European cities, photographed by two very different photographers. This exhibition showcases the work of Ian Berry and Bruno Barbey, both Magnum photographers. Bruno Barbey, a French photographer, captured the uprisings in Paris, whilst Berry immortalised the Czech resistance.
In Paris what started as a predominantly Bourgeois protest ended in one of the greatest upheavals in French Society since the French Revolution. Originally beginning as a student protest at Nanterre University around the right for students to sleep with each other, the civil unrest which engulfed Paris in May 1968 resulted in a general wildcat strike affecting 22% of the population and the occupation of factories and universities across France.
At its height the protests nearly brought down the government of de Gaulle and brought a halt to the fabric of society for almost a month. Bruno Barbey’s famous photograph of a young student hurling a cobble-stone at police has become the defining image of the time. He covered events for weeks in what became the most violent protest in a western capital since the Second World War.
Despite its Bourgeois roots, the protests in Paris were considered to be even more violent than those in Prague, where the young Czechs were fighting the much more authoritarian evil of Communist rule. In what became known as the Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia’s first secretary Alexander Dubcek, began a period of reform, which gave way to outright civil protest, only ending when the USSR invaded the country in August of that year. Ian Berry arrived in Prague on the same day as the Warsaw Pact tanks rolled in and was the only foreign photographer present to capture the momentous events of that day.
Berry photographed the arrival of the tanks and the unforgettable sights of young Czechs remonstrating with confused Russian soldiers, many from Asia, who had deliberately been kept in the dark about which country they were invading. For days he had nothing to eat and followed the protests from one part of the city to the next dodging Russian snipers from street to street. He eventually escaped with his film hidden in the hub-caps and headlights of his rental car. His work in Prague, often overshadowed by the photographs of his contemporary, Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, is regarded as one of the most important photo-historical records of this major seismic event in late twentieth century history
Both cities endured months of unrest, culminating in bitter confrontations and set the scene for popular protests throughout the world thereafter, resonating right through to the recent Arab Spring. This exhibition will be the first time the works of Ian Berry and Bruno Barbey will be shown together.
Spring Revolutions 1968 – A Tale of Two Cities, until 14 June, Atlas Gallery, 49 Dorset St, W1U 7NF, London. For more information visit www. atlasgallery.com.
1. Czech anti-Russian protester wears a neutrality placard (1968), Czechoslovakia, Prague. © Ian Berry.