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Jean-Philippe Charbonnier by Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais


Jean-Philippe Charbonnier is the great forgotten man of French humanist photography. This retrospective, made up of around two hundred works, is the first to pay homage to him, since the only exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris in 1983, produced at the time with Charbonnier himself.

The study of the archives kept at Gamma-Rapho-Keystone allowed us to discover the full extent of Charbonnier’s multifaceted work. The exhibition revolves around some major reportages produced exclusively for the magazine Réalités. Among them, some of the most famous – like the one on psychiatric hospitals for example – could be exhibited in their entirety, while the most disturbing images had not been published at the time. Others will be exhibited for the first time, and in particular color photographs, which have so far been eliminated from exhibitions because they are considered unworthy to be exhibited.

At the same time, this retrospective will allow us to discover his contact sheets, which reveal his choices, his cropping, but also, their detailed captions typed on the reverse, his fine analysis, sometimes tinged with humor of the subjects he deals with in depth. An all-terrain photographer as at ease among miners in the North of France as behind the scenes of Christian Dior’s fashion shows, Charbonnier took incredible fashion photographs, largely unknown, revealing, among other things, his talent as a director.

Last but not least, the exhibition will give an account of Charbonnier as an insatiable globetrotter, who visited the most isolated places and the biggest cities of the world: from Alaska to the island of Sein, from New York to Kyoto, from the Sahara Desert to American supermarkets, his gaze met the eyes of the people he photographed, even in the midst of a crowd. This is the main characteristic that distinguishes him from  Cartier-Bresson for example: his photographs are not taken “on the run”, without the knowledge of the actors in a “fleeting moment”, but with the full awareness of the presence of the photographer, moved by the desire to tell about the other and about elsewhere.

Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais


Jean-Philippe Charbonnier – Raconter l’autre et l’ailleurs (1944-1983)

from February 5 to April 19, 2020

Pavillon Populaire // Espace d’art photographique de la Ville de Montpellier

Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, 34000 Montpellier

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