May 1968: the barricades

May 1968: the barricades

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  • Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, remains of barricades, May 1968

    ZINT Günter (1941)

  • Remains of barricades, boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, May 1968

    ZINT Günter (1941)

Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, remains of barricades, May 1968

© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BPK image Rights reserved

Remains of barricades, boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, May 1968

© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BPK image Rights reserved

Publication date: May 2018

Historical context

The barricades in pictures

Of all the images from May 1968, those that show clashes between students and law enforcement in the Latin Quarter are certainly the most famous and the most striking. True metonymy of this "revolution", the barricades, the cobblestones, the C.R.S., the young people facing the tear gas and the batons would almost come to sum up this episode in the imaginary ones.

It is because the French and then international media which cover them live give them a tremendous response. Benevolent or more critical, documentary or artistic, these representations mark the conscience and the representations, playing a certain role on the events themselves.

So it is with Remains of barricades, boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, May 1968 which were taken on May 7 or, more likely, on May 11, the day after "the night of the barricades" in the Latin Quarter. But it was especially on the nights of May 6 (600 wounded, 422 arrests) and May 10 (nearly 1,000 wounded and 450 arrests) that the most violent clashes took place, some of which we see here. remains.

Image Analysis

The day after riots

These photos were taken by Günter Zint, a young German press photographer (b.1941) who worked as a freelance reporter for Spiegl. Founder of the Pan-Foto Agency in Hamburg in 1964, he had already gained a certain notoriety with his black and white images devoted to football, music, protest movements and more generally to European youth. So it was almost natural that he went to Paris in May 68, where he took many photographs of the struggling students.

Here, Zint chooses to represent the aftermath of a riot. Admittedly, many young people are visible in the images, who may have participated in the uprising the day before. But the presence of older people (an old lady in the foreground), the appearance of a rather luxurious car that tries to move forward or the general attitude of passers-by indicate that we are no longer in the city. one of the strong and hot moments of the revolt.

While no tension is palpable, these photos nonetheless both testify to the intensity of the clashes. In the first photo taken in the middle of Boulevard Saint-Michel (at the corner of Rue Racine), the cobblestones were torn off and a two-horse was overturned. On the second taken a little lower, part of the road is gutted, the cobblestones of which have been piled up in a fairly high pile. In the background, the crowd is quite dense, which almost makes one think of a sort of procession.


After the cobblestones

These photos first capture a rather special moment, a kind ofbetween two. Not to mention a return to normal, it seems that urban life is resuming here - partially and perhaps momentarily - its course, allowing the curious for the most part satisfied (see the smiles on the juvenile faces) to come and see peacefully the traces of the clashes; and the rare few other less involved city dwellers to follow their path. But the remains of barricades that make the unusual appear in a familiar urban setting immediately belies this impression, reminding us that the moment is exceptional. The diffuse and peaceful crowd in the second photograph presents a majority of young people among the passers-by. The total absence of law enforcement is notable in this regard, the streets being as though returned to citizens only, in line with demands and nightly struggles.

Without being spectacular, Remains of barricades, boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, May 1968 also inform us about the realities of the fighting, and more particularly about the means implemented by the rioters. Used as projectiles, the paving stones are also used to erect the famous barricades, on which we will place various objects (here, a car) to protect themselves and block the passage. By digging the roadway, it is also a matter of making the circulation of police vehicles difficult if not impossible. Beyond considerations concerning urban guerrilla techniques, the use of cobblestones and barricades also draws on a fairly significant tradition and political imagination which refers to the Parisian revolutions, particularly those of the 19th century.e century. Finally, it diverts an object from its primary functionality, ensuring the irruption of disorder, the unexpected, anger at the heart of reality thus reinvented.

  • May 68
  • Fifth Republic
  • barricades
  • street
  • Paris
  • demonstrations


ARTIERES, Philppe and ZANCARINI-FOURNEL, Michelle, (dir), 68, a collective history: 1962-1981 Paris, La Découverte, 2008.

CAPDEVIELLE, Jacques and REY, Henry (dir), Dictionary of May 68, Paris, Larousse, 2008.

CUP, Boris, May 68, Paris, La Découverte, 2008.

SIRINELLI, Jean-François, May 68: the Janus event, Paris, Fayard, 2008.

ZANCARINI-FOURNEL, Michelle, Moment 68, a contested story, Paris, Seuil, coll. “The Historical Universe”, 2008.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "May 1968: the barricades"

Video: How Student And Worker Protests Shut Down France


  1. Seleby

    He is certainly not human

  2. Struthers


  3. Thanatos

    Is there another way out?

  4. Weard

    I confirm. It happens. We can communicate on this theme. Here or at PM.

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