The posters that populated Paris in May '68
On the 50th anniversary of the street protests, we look back at the chief image-makers of the age, Atelier Populaire
Graphic design is more often than not a soley commercial enterprise. However, it can be put to radical, political purposes. Take the posters created by Atelier Populaire, a print studio which was at the forefront of the 1968 student and worker uprising in Paris.
Atelier Populaire - or Popular Workshop - were a group of activists who occupied École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, to design, print and distribute posters that would "give concrete support to the great movement of the workers on strike who are occupying their factories in defiance of the Gaullist government."
The works were given away for free, pasted up around Paris, and captured the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist spirit of the age. Somewhat ironically works by Atelier Populaire prints now change hands for many hundreds of dollars.
One of the most famous images features a riot policeman from the despised French Compagnies Républicaines de Securité (Republican Security Companies), brandishing a baton and a shield emblazoned with the letters “SS”, a savage reminder of the Nazi occupation.
In another poster, Charles de Gaulle is depicted with a mask slipping from his face to reveal Adolf Hitler. The crude boldness of these images, usually reproduced in a single colour on white news sheet (supplied by striking newspaper workers), was deliberate. Not only did the simplicity ram home the message, it also meant the images were easily reproduced, and therefore more easily disseminated.
Although Atelier Populaire was short lived, its influence lives on, both in the work of contemporary protest images, and in the wider world of popular visual communications; the London gallery Lazinc has a show of the Atelier's work on at the moment.