[Editor's note: There are few casual photographs of this period, because photography in China was officially approved only as a tool for staged propaganda during the Cultural Revolution. Few ordinary people had access to cameras and film. Color photographs from this period in China are even more rare. Western photojournalists, when allowed to photograph, usually used black-and-white film for their news publications — so these everyday color photos carry some added sociological importance as historical documents.]

These pictures are not a photojournalistic report on the Cultural Revolution. I took them when I was 19, working as a French embassy secretary from 1965 to 1968, and discovering China. They reveal the innocence of that time, a curiosity for peering into another world, and an empathy for these Chinese youths, who prefigured the major movements of 1968.

The pictures were not taken to prove anything; they were just a personal memento of a moment when I had no idea this would be an important period in the history of China.The photos show nothing of the dark side of the Cultural Revolution because I never witnessed it. Like all photographs, they reveal a fragment of reality and acquire meaning only when captioned or placed in context.

They were packed in boxes for 40 years, but have now become interesting. These pictures are in color (Agfacolor slides), when black and white prevailed in the press. I bought the film in Hong Kong, where all the embassy staff shopped for goods unavailable in China. I developed the film in Hong Kong, too.

People ask if I was ever in danger. No. I was the same age as those Red Guards and no threat to them. Some of the young people marching past looked at me incredulously and some smiled, especially those who had come from the countryside and had never set eyes on a foreigner before. Forty years later, I remember the feeling. Although I was behind the lens, I was the object of curiosity. We were discovering each other.

— Solange Brand

Pékin 1966: Petites histoires de la révolution culturelle
by Solange Brand
180 pages

Editions de l'oeil électrique
ISBN 978-2951648418

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