This month marks the 45th anniversary of the May 1968 protests in Paris. My father was living in Paris’s Latin Quarter at the time. He had finished his studies at la Sorbonne, was working as an English teacher at Air France and still living in his student hotel. “L’hotel de la Loire” on Rue Du Sommerard ended up being at the crossroads of most of the action during the month long protests.
Armed with a 35mm rangefinder “Rank Mamiya” w / f2.8 40mm lens and rolls of Kodak ‘Safety film’ (older name of Tri x pan) which he developed at home, he captured these images. Some of the pictures were scanned from a contact sheet as the negatives mysteriously vanished from a local lab. My father was eager to get proof prints done of the negatives, which featured some violent scenes of clashes; he never got them back.
© JD Arnold - A student barricade with burning cars, photographed on the corner of Rue St Jacques & Rue des Ecoles (the main Sorbonne University building is to the right of frame). The CRS (the notorious French riot police) barricade was on the other end of Rue St Jacques, and the student hotel was sandwiched between the two.
The CRS, Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (English: Republican Security Companies). This riot police force has been much despised by generations of protestors and students; a popular slogan, coined in May 1968 and still used when I was a student in the 1990s in Paris was “CRS, SS!”, likening them to the Nazi SS.
© JD Arnold - Next to Odeon Metro station, the CRS gathering, preparing to confront students.
© JD Arnold - Taken from my father’s window, CRS charging towards students on Rue Des Ecoles. Canisters of teargas were exploding everywhere. During the protests, the constant cry of the students could be heard all over the latin quarter: ”de l’eau! de l’eau! de l’eau!” (“water, water water!”) People would throw buckets of water out of their windows, as it helped dissolve the gas. Mr Victor, The hotel owner had to check all the windows every morning and often replace them (broken windows were treated as suspicious by the CRS)
© JD Arnold - An outer canister and three burned out inner canisters of teargas on my father’s floor. He was taking a photo through an open window, when the CRS saw him and fired a shot. Instinct told him to shut the window but the shot was powerful enough for the heavy canister to pass through the closed window on the 4th floor and exploded. In such a small enclosed space, it was potentially lethal, so he had to make a quick exit.
© JD Arnold - A demonstration on Champ De Mars, the student in the foreground is looking up at a police helicopter hovering above.
© JD Arnold - Students preparing themselves for the night’s confrontation.
© JD Arnold - Place Monge, the morning after.
© JD Arnold - Boulevard St Germain
© JD Arnold - CRS firing teargas on Place St Michel, one of the most touristic spots in Paris it was known then, as “no man’s land” .
© JD Arnold – Students, running from a police advance. Boulevard St Michel
© JD Arnold – A night time clash taken from my Father’s window.
© JD Arnold – Aftermath of the battle, a wounded student is taken to hospital by a Red Cross Ambulance.
© JD Arnold – Students on their way to a demonstration on Champ De Mars
© JD Arnold – composite of 2 images -
A meeting at the main amphitheater, still known today by Sorbonne students as “Le Grand Amphi”. The leaders of the student movement Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Jacques Sauvageot, Alain Geismar and Alain Krivine were gathering support to organize student action. My father took the pictures with flash and was promptly thrown out, only holding on to the roll of film by finally making the students understand that he was not CRS spy.
© JD Arnold – A large gathering of students in the Sorbonne’s courtyard
© JD Arnold - This image was taken on the corner of Boulevard St Germain and Rue St Jacques (taken from the hotel) On most days, the police would set up a massive blockade in one place and watch the students gradually assemble their barricade opposite them. When everything was ready, the actual fighting began. The CRS could have easily broken it up early if they had received the order to do so, but they usually waited, seemingly adhering to very traditional rules of engagement.
© JD Arnold – A student barricade Rue Des Ecoles.
Wikipedia page on May 68
Collection of May 1968 posters, featuring the CRS, SS poster and many others such as the famous slogan, ‘Sous les paves, la plage” (under the pave-stones, lies the beach)
Archive footage of May 68: