My photographic style is a response to what I see in France. I have visited Paris every year since 2015. What photographer would not want to capture the elegance of even the smallest details there? Here’s an architectural detail I saw in 2016 on a walk back to my Belleville apartment from a look at the rising waters of the Seine.
Who would not want to capture the elegance of Parisians even when they are in the most crowded, sweaty and busy locations? Here’s an elegant Muslim woman in the crowded Gare du Nord train station, Spring 2015.
The elegance could distract from darker tendencies in French life. For me, one of the first signs of them was seeing two soldiers with submachine guns–not police, but soldiers–standing guard in front of a Jewish school in Belleville–Lucien de Hirsch, an orthodox school open to modern ideas founded in 1901 to aid children fleeing Eastern European antisemitism.
Paris is also just, well, interesting! There’s life on view all around you. Over here, the Belleville open air market with fish and shrimp for sale.
Over there, coffee drinkers at an inviting café across from Buttes Chaumont Park.
Murals. A Tunisian sweet shop. A Tunisian Jewish restaurant.
But, on the same streets, signs of distress and struggle. “We do not remain passive in the face of this society that exploits us, isolates us, divides us and evicts us from solidarity spaces! The Cantine of the Pyrenées has been evicted… We will bring it back to life!”
Discontent–about unemployment, underemployment, insecurity and control–is pasted on the walls. One poster declares that “Our lives are worth more than our pointless jobs.” Another calls for “Permanence for the undocumented!” A third portrays an “ossuary of democratic freedoms.”
All this around the corner from a friendly, inexpensive, family-style café.
And that’s how it is in Paris: elegant, interesting and in distress. I couldn’t take in the zigzag–from charm to violence, from conviviality to anguish and struggle. So, I developed an ironic photographic style–with saturated colors and no pretense to the real. A Norman Rockwell style for a time of capitalist decay.
I love my beautiful photo paintings–and the pain they are intended both to show and to hide.