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Photographer Philippe Vermès’s best shot

April 29, 2011


This was posted yesterday on the The Guardian UK’s website—a nice little piece on a May 68 poster maker/photographer. You can find it on the Guardian’s site HERE.
Photographer Philippe Vermès’s best shot
‘This poster was the one everyone wanted in May 1968. It’s saying: “We, the workers, are the power now.”‘
Interview by Jon Henley
Thursday April 28 2011, The Guardian
This shot was taken at the Atelier Populaire—the popular workshop—which occupied the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris, in May 1968. The Atelier Populaire was where we made the posters for the uprisings that swept Paris that month: a whole lot of striking students, staff, artists from outside. It was a very special place; completely collaborative. There was a general assembly every evening at 7pm, and everyone there would vote on the various proposals for posters presented. Anything that got a unanimous vote was screen-printed the next day.

I’d come to Paris from the Beaux-Arts de Caen in Normandy, studying abstract and narrative painting. But I’d started taking pictures with a Kodak folding camera years before: of my family, who were farmers, and of old buildings. There were several of us photographers at the Atelier Populaire, but it was a hectic sort of place, and from time to time things would go missing. Eventually someone took my camera—an Exakta—and that was that, for then. But I was kept busy; I was one of the few to have a car, a red Deux Chevaux, so I used to drive the posters round to the factories for the striking workers.
This poster was iconic. As soon as it was printed, it was the one everybody wanted, all the strike committees in the factories and schools. It’s a very powerful image, the six workers against the light, one with his fist raised, another holding a wrench. It’s saying: we are the power now; not the unions, not the politicians, not the police. We, the workers.
I like the composition of the photograph, the light and shade; the posters spread out on the ground and the others hung up to dry, curled like cornets of chips. And the fact there are no faces. We tried not to photograph faces at the Atelier Populaire, because afterwards the police could identify them, and that was not good.
Interview by Jon Henley. Beauty is in the Street, edited by Johan Kugelberg and Philippe Vermès is published on 16 May by Four Corners Books.


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