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Jean-Philippe Charbonnier 

Jean-Philippe Charbonnier was born in Paris on August 28, 1921 into a family of artists and intellectuals. His mother, Annette Vaillant, was a writer and daughter of one of the founders of the Revue Blanche; his father, Pierre Charbonnier, a painter.
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)
Jean-Philippe Charbonnier is exclusively represented by Galerie Agathe Gaillard (Paris, France) for the exhibition prints.
© Gery Cichowlas (2006) - Used with permission 



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