Posts Tagged ‘Bruno Barbey’

Bruno Barbey

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Bruno Barbey, a French photographer born in Morocco in 1941, has photographed around the world over the years, and is one of the few Magnum photographers who deserve to be better known. Not that the others are bad photographers, but rather that they are everyday names, at least in the world of photography.

I was reminded of Barbey by a Facebook post by photographer Antonio Olmos (who also deserves to be better known) of a group of pictures taken in Poland in the early 1980s, when Barbey spent 8 months living in a camper van and working there despite strict surveillance by the communist state, because “Poland was the page in history that was being written and it was the memory of an ancestral society on the verge of disappearing”.

Barbey studied photogrpahy in Switzerland in 1959-60 and first went to Magnum in 1964. He served as their vice president for Europe in 1978/1979 and as President of Magnum International from 1992 to 1995. He is now a contributor and you can see a great deal of his work on their site.

In an excellent short video made for Paris Photo he talks about his life and work and some of his pictures.

I hadn’t been aware until I watched this of the various similarities between his views on photography and mine, though in other respects we are so different (for one thing I hate travel and he has spent his life going around the world.) In part it is a generational thing, though I only really got started in photography around fifteen years later than he did.

He speaks of beginning photography with a Leica M2, a camera I bought back in my early years in photography in 1977, though by then my copy was something of an antique, and of course he was working as we almost alll did, in black and white. He learnt to work quickly and unobtrusively, moving close into situations with a 21mm lens, and saying “I never ask permission to take photographs … except for portraits”, using the depth of field of the ultra-wide angle to avoid the need to focus.

In that early work – like most photojournalists of the era – he worked entirely by natural light, and says at the time he really didn’t understand flash, when for example he was covering the events in Paris in ’68. Of course then flash outside the studio was crude and somewhat unpredictable, usually with flash bulbs, though electronic flashes were coming into wider use and largely replacing these. I still remember the first occasion on which I spent several minutes working out how to use fill-flash back in the 1980s, something modern cameras and flashes perform automatically (and at much faster shutter speeds.) And if he was then still using that Leica M2, it’s X-sync speed of 1/50th was more than a little limiting.

On the video he also talks about the difference between working with film for magazines in colour – that meant Kodachrome, a film I could seldom afford – in the old days, when after taking pictures you had to send off the film for processing and while travelling he might not see the images until weeks or months later, and today’s immediate digital photography, when instead of having a good dinner in the evening you might be up to the early hours working in front of a computer. It’s something I find it hard to adapt to, refusing to file without properly editing my pictures on a large screen, though often having that good dinner and a glass or two before finishing the edit.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage