May 1968 Paris Riots

Looking at Les Mis, the story leads to a student rebellion, the barricade is built and the fight begins. I think there is often a confusion that it is the French revolution being portrayed. Talking to my tutor and agreeing that the work needs to be contemporary I was advised to look at the Arab springs and the May 1968 riots in Paris. I was a lot more interested in Paris, as it is similar to Les Miserables and the clothing worn in the images is interesting. As I usually work well with a vintage aesthetic I felt this was the way to go. 

This is part of the entry from wikipedia, describing the events


The May 1968 protest refers to a particular period in French history. It was historically significant for being the first wildcat general strike ever,[1] and for being the largest general strike ever, bringing the economy of an advanced industrial country to a virtual standstill.[1] It commenced with a series of student occupation protests. The strike involved 11,000,000 workers, over 22% of the total population of France at the time, for a continuous two weeks,[1] and its impact was such that it almost caused the collapse of President Charles de Gaulle's government. In staging wildcat strikes, the movement contrasted with the trade unions and the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Français, PCF), which began to side with the de Gaulle government.[1]

It began as a long series of student strikes that broke out at a number of universities and lycées in Paris, following confrontations with university administrators and the police. The de Gaulle administration's attempts to quell those strikes by police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter, followed by a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by eleven million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that government leaders feared civil war or revolution. De Gaulle fled to a French military base in Germany, where he created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly, and called for new parliamentary elections for 23 June 1968. Violence evaporated almost as quickly as it arose. Workers went back to their jobs, after a series of deceptions by theConfédération Générale du Travail (the leftist union federation) and the PCF. When the elections were finally held in June, the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before.





I have been looking at videos on youtube to get a clearer idea of the riots, there is so much information on them that I am interested in. I have taken some screen shots from Paris Uprising May 1968 that shows the footage of the riots, and some inspiration for how to develop my concept in a more contemporary way. 


The video talks about how the riots turned violent from it being just a student uprising. The police were used to dealing with protestors violently, and the media was used to spiral the whole event.


Students protested about the film. Students and workers also protested against stereotypes of the 'well behaved student or worker'.



For protestors they were very beautiful and well dressed, I think this is something I can take on board with my project. I cannot shoot in Paris, but I can take inspiration from how the students looked and the feeling of them. 



I am very interested in the smoke/ tear gas. Also of the strikes and how students occupied the universities. What also draws my attention is how French families got televisions just to see how the riots were panning out. I like the idea that they were not seeing them first hand, but through the media. This is something I could think more into for my concept, as it does fit with Eponine and not seeing things properly?



I also watched Mai68: La contestation, which was all in French, however the visuals were different to the video of before, showing much more of the violence and what really happened. I was really interested in the use of the water and the smoke and the texture they created. How could I do something this this with a small production budget?

 The texture of the water is really different, how can I recreate this?










Some documentary images from the protests:

Marc Rihoud
Associated Press
Bruno Barbey 
Central Press


I think what is really interesting with all the photos and footage of the riots is the use of black and white. I have only seen a few small clips in colour, and everything is is contrasty black and white images of the protestors. Because of this I am drawn to using more black and white, not so much with how I aim to take the photos, but more with the styling. It is much more contemporary, and workers wear, relating to my original concept. Maybe I could mix between this and sheer materials that represent how poor Eponine was? 

I think I have learnt a lot from the student riots, I do not fully understand it, but the visuals are new and interesting to me. They could take my project to another level, and give the styling more concept. I am not sure if I would want to tie in the violence, or have a large cast of models trying to re-create this, however I do think it will be a big influence with the images I create. 

Louise Walker

Louise Walker is an award winning knitting pattern and kit designer based in South London.

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