Bruno Barbey: Color of China

In memory of Magnum Photos member Bruno Barbey (passed away last November) who documented the conflict and celebrated beauty around the globe for more than half a century, we show here his ultimate book Color of China, the first Chinese-language publication of Bruno Barbey’s monograph on the country.
Jean Loh is a photography curator and publisher as well as author of the book’s foreword. This edition – a product of decades of work in China – designed and edited by Barbey’s wife, Caroline Theinot-Barbey, was published in April 2019, by Beijing United Publishing Co., Ltd & Post Wave Publishing.
In September 1973, when French President George Pompidou paid an official visit to China, Barbey joined the accompanying press group. He recorded the Chinese at the time with his favorite Kodachrome film. Barbey became the first Magnum photographer to shoot China in color. Since then, Barbey has come to China many times, covering Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Guangxi, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Macao, and other places, witnessing China’s development with the change of color. The book contains more than 300 color photographs taken in China from 1973 to 2018. These photos are extensive in content, exquisite in composition, and of great historical and aesthetic value.

At that time, photographers generally used black and white photos. When color photography was not taken seriously, Barbey took the lead in trying Kodachrome color films, which shows the importance of technical support and pioneering spirit.
Barbey’s photography was not obsolete because of the passage of time. On the contrary, each photo has a different appeal. After years, they are still full of rich and original colors.

During the past 45 years, China has been transformed from a large but undeveloped country into one of the world’s foremost industrial superpowers. Throughout that period, senior Magnum photographer Bruno Barbey has been assembling a unique body of work that documents ways in which the country has changed beyond recognition.

Of the Western photographers who went to China, few really got to the heart of the country as Barbey did. Let’s first pay tribute to his elders at Magnum, those like Robert Capa, who documented the Sino-Japanese war in 1938, or Henri Cartier-Bresson who covered regime change in Beijing and Shanghai between December 1948 and 1949, and Marc Riboud, who arrived in 1957 in the middle of the Hundred Flowers Campaign, and would return in 1965 and 1971 during the Cultural Revolution.

The big difference between their work and Barbey’s is the surprise, tinged with a sense of nostalgia, aroused in members of the Chinese public who saw Barbey’s photos for the first time. Much of the visual memory of the People’s China from the first three decades of its history was marked by images made in black and white, while the China which Bruno shows is entirely in color. This major difference means that Bruno Barbey’s China does not look like traditional photoreportage, his approach is rather more like the search for a Chinese identity, or an idea of China. (via

About the Author

Bruno Barbey, born in Morocco, has dual nationality, French and Swiss. He studied photography and graphic arts at the École des Arts et Métiers in Vevey, Switzerland. 
In 1961-1964 he photographed the Italians, perceiving them as protagonists of a ‘theatrical world’, with the aim of capturing the spirit of a nation.

A portrait of Bruno Barbey by Gueorgui Pinkhassov

Bruno Barbey began his relationship with Magnum Photos in 1964. He served as Magnum vice president for Europe in 1978/1979 and as President of Magnum International from 1992 to 1995. 
Over five decades Bruno Barbey has photographed in all five continents and covered wars and conflicts in Nigeria, Vietnam, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Kuwait. His work has appeared in the world’s major magazines and he has published over 30 books.
 In 1999 the Petit Palais, Paris, organized a large solo exhibition of photographs taken by Bruno Barbey in Morocco over a period of three decades.

In 2015/2016, La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, showed his retrospective exhibition which is currently circulating internationally. He published simultaneously his retrospective book “Passages”. 
He has received numerous awards for his work, including the French National Order of Merit.
 In 2016, Bruno Barbey was elected a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts, Institut de France.
His photographs are exhibited worldwide and feature in numerous museum collections.

He recently passed away on November 9, 2020. He was a citizen of the world, dedicating his life to documenting conflicts and celebrating beauty with great sensitivity and understanding.

Hardcover: 456 pages, more of 300 images
Concept and Design: Caroline Thienot-Barbey and Jean Loh
Introduction: Jean Loh
Preface: Dong Qiang
Publisher: Beijing United Publishing Co.,Ltd. & Post Wave Publishing (2019)
Language: English, Chinese
Size: 11.22 x 11.22 inches
ISBN-13: 978-7559629005

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