When a Famous Person Dies, Especially an Artist, the Best Front Pages Are Those of Libé
by Javier Errea
The obituaries in Libération are legendary. When a famous person dies, especially an artist, the best front pages in the world are those of Libé. On these occasions, the newspaper offers a poetic, distinctive portrait. The headline is marvellously paired with the photograph, often in black and white; it is a hallmark of the paper that creates poster-like layouts.
Special obituaries, which are referred to in-house as "Nécros", are not limited to the front pages. In its interior pages, Libération does not skimp on space or resources. When Mao Tse Tung died in 1976, Chinese characters were employed. In 1983, on the death of Hergé, the creator of Tintin, the newspaper used images from his comics instead of photographs throughout the entire issue. Similarly, when Henri Cartier-Bresson died in 2004, the images of this legendary photographer filled the pages of that day’s edition. Twenty pages were devoted to Michael Jackson in 2009. More recently, the deaths of musicians such as David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen have been the occasion for extended reporting, combining unique photographs with eloquent and poetic writing.
Libération published a special edition on June 3, 2016, on the occasion of the death of boxer Muhammad Ali. The black-and-white photography used here is characteristic of the great obituaries of Libération and aims to lend a certain timelessness to the person being portrayed.
The death of David Bowie, a pop music icon for 50 years, prompted Libération to publish a special edition on January 12, 2016. On this occasion, the obituary combined black-and-white and color photographs, the latter perfectly reflecting Bowie’s aesthetic. This issue provided a marvellous overview of the musician’s artistic career and included extended essays and double-page photographs that acted as frontispieces for each of the facets of his life addressed. A highlight of the issue was the exceptional photo, taken by Brian Aris in 2000, which served as both front and back cover, and featured Bowie playing with his daughter Alexandria.
Actress Jeanne Moureau, a muse of French cinema, died on July 31, 2017, at the age of 89. The next day Libération dedicated several special pages to her with absolutely elegant black-and-white photography.
The death of musician and writer Leonard Cohen on Friday, November 11, 2016, led Libération to dedicate more than 20 pages to him. The newspaper included an exquisite selection of black-and-white photographs combined with well-written texts. This was an outstanding issue that used the title of one of Cohen’s songs as the headline.
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