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Paris, May 1968 — a view from the barricades

A police officer confronts defiant students on the Boulevard Saint-Michel during the first day of violent clashes in Paris on May 6, 1968. In all, 1,045 civilians were wounded during what became known as “the night of the barricades.” (Photo: Gökşin Sipahioğlu/SIPA)

Paris, May 1968 — a view from the barricades by Gökşin Sipahioğlu

Fifty years ago, as France exploded in mass protests, words scrawled on the walls of the Sorbonne summed up the revolutionary zeal of the time: “Run free, comrade, we’ve left the old world behind!”

Half a century later, the May 1968 demonstrations that brought millions of idealistic students and striking workers to the streets remain a watershed moment in France’s cultural history.

Sexual liberation, artistic creativity and anti-capitalism were the order of the day. For those who were there, it was an unforgettable time.

The protests swept through a France that was still ruled by the strict conservatism of Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who was then president and banned the concerts of French rocker Johnny Hallyday for causing scenes of mass hysteria.

The aftershocks of the protests would be felt for years to come. (AFP)

Gökşin Sipahioğlu, a Turkish photojournalist and one of the father figures of photojournalism, covered news stories from the 1956 war in the Sinai Peninsula to Mao’s revolution in China, the Cuban missile crisis, the 1972 Munich Olympics killings, and the Prague Spring and Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

As a correspondent for the Turkish daily Hürriyet, he came to Paris to cover the May 1968 student uprising. While many photojournalists were on the streets, Gökşin brought his curiosity, audacity, uncanny anticipation of events, and keen eye to the frontlines to freshly illuminate the quickly unfolding events. He remarked at the time:

“At first I did not understand what was going on. For hours on the first day of rioting the police allowed the students to do as they liked. The students wrecked everything, ripped up paving stones, chopped down trees, erected barricades, set cars on fire. Later, in a matter of minutes, the CRS [riot police] charged the students. I asked myself, ‘Why hadn’t they charged earlier?’ I soon understood why. The authorities wanted the public to see the devastation.”

While in Paris, Gökşin realized that a network was sorely needed for distribution of news photos, and he founded Sipa Press photo news agency in 1973 with American journalist Phyllis Springer. Encouraging young photographers and giving many their first chance, Gökşin created a generation of photojournalists.

Photography by Gökşin Sipahioğlu/SIPA

“May 68, photographs by Gökşin Sipahioğlu,” is on view at Galerie Basia Embiricos and Photo 12 Galerie in Paris through May 25, 2018. It was curated by Ferit Duzyol in collaboration with Sipa Press. 

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