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In 1939 his father gave him his first camera. He asked his neighbor, the French photographer Sam Levin, for advice. Levin was well-known for his work in cinema - as a portraitist and set photographer and Charbonnier became his assistant. The war interrupted his work in Paris. In 1941 he left for Lyon finding work in the photo lab of Blanc and Demilly. From there he went and to Toulon and joined up with Sam Levin. In1943 he left France for Switzerland where he spent almost two years studying typography and lay-out design with Jean Manevy.
Upon his return to France at the end of 1944 he found work with the newspaper Libération doing typesetting and lay-out. That same year he shot his first photo story, the execution of a collaborator, for a local newspaper in Vienne (Isère,France).He continued doing free-lance photography and worked with Albert Piécy at Point de Vue where, in 1949, he published a photographic essay complete with his own captions. He joined the staff of the prestigious monthly magazine Réalités in January 1950 working there until 1974. Charbonnier criss-crossed the globe with his camera, photographing major events, the famous and powerful people of that period as well as doing sensitive photographic essays on daily life, particularly in France. Réalités published three special issues (France, China, World Tour) filled entirely with Charbonnier's photographs.
In the 1960's, Charbonnier began commercial photography obtaining assignments with such companies as Carrefour, Renault as well as the Ministry of Labor. He also taught photography both in Paris (Penninghen) and in England.
In 1970 he was invited by Michel Tournier to participate in the inauguration exhibitions of the first "Rencontre d'Arles".
Charbonnier chose to leave Réalités in July 1974, when everything was becoming standardized, and when photography was no longer unique in bringing images of far-flung places to viewers. He turned his attention to his Parisian neighborhood of Notre-Dame de Paris making in-depth photographic essays on the daily life around him. The exotic often lurks around the corner.
In 1983, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris held a major retrospective of Charbonnier's work, paying tribute to his talent. The show exhibited a panorama of more than forty years of French history, including the colonial and exotic adventures of a man who always fought narrow-mindedness and exposed middle-class values.
In the catalogue for this exhibition Charbonnier wrote:
"Photography is an excuse for curiosity, a way to satisfy it. It must not be an excuse for indiscretion, which is moreover useless, since the photographer is like a father confessor, to whom all is told. It is a means of seeing without being seen, of supporting the insupportable. The camera is both magnifier and shield against death and horror. The photographer enjoys a first-ultrasonic view, which penetrates far beyond his normal glance, in depth and speed. This view pinpoints the subject and freezes it by magnetism before the click of the shutter. The normal view often comes afterwards. Yet all this is purposeless if the photographer does not know to enter or to be drawn into the magnetic field-him too- where here and there Nature, people and things are in order."
In 1996, he received the Grand Prix de la photographie de la ville de Paris
He died on May 28, 2004 in Grasse.
Charbonnier, who spent his life as a globetrotter, did not believe he could be an anonymous news stringer. Moreover, as a privileged witness to many events, he always carried his character along with the camera, every shot becoming part of an experience you never can live twice.
His work is like a diary where the real understanding of each image goes with the most careful reading of his notes. Charbonnier was the modern expression of the gentleman: being the very opposite of a hidden eyewitness, he could never be tempted by candid shots. As a romantic hero, Charbonnier believed that photography is part of our struggle for life, and that it can change not only our vision of people and things, but also our feelings.
All the photographs are copyrighted Jean-Philippe Charbonnier.
Rights owner is Galerie Agathe Gaillard (Paris, France) www.agathegaillard.com
Jean-Philippe Charbonnier is exclusively represented by Galerie Agathe Gaillard (Paris, France) for the exhibition prints.
© Gery Cichowlas (2006) - Used with permission
Selected solo exhibitions
2006 Duncan Miller Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (U.S.A)
2003 Retrospective, Galerie in Focus, Cologne (Germany)
2003 Galerie de la Filature, Mulhouse (France)
2002 "Vintages", Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris (France)
2002 "Bargemon 1953", Musée Camos, Bargemon (France)
2001 "Los Minuteros, photographes de rue", La Galerie Photo, Montpellier (France)
2000 8e biennale de la photographie, Châteaumeillant (France)
1998 "Églantine a grandi", Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris (France)
1997 Joseph Berg Gallery, Portland, Oregon (U.S.A)
1996 Bunkamura, Tokyo, (Japan), Zurich (Switzerland)
1994 Musée de l'Élysée, Lausanne (Switzerland)
1993 "Inédits", Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris (France)
1992 "40 ans dans la Vallée, des visages que l'on n'oublie pas", mairie d'Argentières (France)
1991 Maison de la Montagne, Chamonix (France)
1991 Institut du monde arabe, Paris (France)
1990 Musée Nicéphore Niepce, Chalon-sur-Saône (France)
1990 Galerie Zelda, London (UK)
1990 Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh (UK) 1990 Médiathèque André Malraux, Tourcoing (France)
1987 Hotel de Ville de Cholet (France)
1986 Maison de la Culture d'Angoulême (France)
1985 Maison de la Culture de Saint-Étienne (France)
1984 Musée de l'Élysée, Lausanne (Switzerland)
1984 Centre photographique de Stockholm (Sweden)
1983 Retrospective 1944-1982, 300 photos, musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (France)
1983 Centre culturel de Chicago (U.S.A)
1983 Musée de Grignan (France)
1983 Centre socioculturel de Fresnes (France)
1980 Galerie Penning, Endhoven (Netherland)
1978 "Photographies Nouvelles 1975-1978", Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris (France)
1978 Galerie Nagel, Berlin (Germany)
1976 "Portraits et Situations", Centre Culturel de Berlin (Germany)
1976 "I think we met before", Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris (France)
1976 Galerie Nagel, Berlin (Germany)
1974 Centre Culturel de Bruxelles (Belgium)
1974 Institut français, Stockholm (Sweden)
1972 Maison de la Culture du Havre (France)
1972 Photographers Gallery, London (England)
1993 Les enfants de Germinal collaboration with Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis to the book by Cavanna, Editions Hoëbeke.
1992 Chamonix, 40 ans dans la vallée texts and photos. Editions Glénat.
1983 Jean-Philippe Charbonnier 300 photographies 1944 - 1982 Catalog reproducing all the photos of the exhibition of the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris with legends and texts of the author (also an American hardcover edition).
1972 Catalog of the exhibition at the Maison de la Culture du Havre, introduction by Michel Tournier.
1961 Un photographe vous parle Collection of recollections with 8 photographs. Editions Grasset.
1957 Chemins de la vie 70 photographs, introduction by Philippe Soupault. Éditions du cap.