Life will give you lemons they say, and that’s where my favourite French delicacy tarte au citron came from. Life will also kick you in the pants, rough you up a bit, and drag you by the ear in the opposite direction to the one planned. And that’s precisely what happened when I was scouting around doing important research for this blog post last week.
Well, life has served me pricklier curve balls, that’s for sure, but plans changed slightly nonetheless. I was skirting around the Hotel de Ville trying to get into the Magnum exhibition to check out the best of French photojournalism but alas, the long queue soon squashed that idea. But while I was forlornly double-backing around the building’s railings on my way back to the metro, haunting photos caught my eye.
And here’s the cracker, the stunning irony that made me throw my carefully scheduled blog plans into the gutter; these images are part of Prises de rues, an exhibition giving centre stage to a part of Parisian society that all of us, tourists, residents and locals alike, are purposefully guilty of turning our eyes away from each and every day. Those forgotten people that are more beaten down by life’s cruel twists than most of us; Paris’ homeless population.
A joint venture between the Marie de Paris, Deuxième Marche, a charity which raises awareness about the homeless cause, and photo competition site wipplay.com, the project aims to show the city through the eyes of people on the streets, forcing us to confront those things that we would all rather not see. 13 homeless people were selected, and over a period of four weeks, they, with the help of a handful of art students, used the lens to highlight the reality of their daily existence, generating 1,500 photos in total.
The resulting images are beautifully raw and painfully familiar, juxtaposing the grandeur of their host building just the other side of the railings. The winning image Hitchcock (see above) may hint towards a dark urban romanticism with its grey cloud of pigeons, but it’s important to reflect on the struggle and hardship that inspired its, and the others’, creation.
I’m simply not qualified to examine society’s role in both the reason or the solution to the city’s immense and growing homeless crisis, or to criticise the powers-that-be for not doing enough to help. But I will say how proud and moved I was to see such a public examination of the problem, shouting a message loud and uncomfortably clear amongst the elegant Haussmannian buildings lining the Rue de Rivoli, a mere stone’s throw from Paris’ most majestic buildings. Let’s hope it signals the start of a new and more positive era for the city’s people in need.
So whilst the glamour of Paris lies on the other side of the lens inside the Hotel de Ville, if you’re in the area, linger outside and challenge the city’s alluring stereotype with a collection of images that show a slice of what it’s really like to call France’s capital home. Sadly, unlike the homeless problem, the exhibition is soon to disappear, running until 23rd of March. So make it snappy.
For vital info, steer your mouse here.
Selected images are available for sale at http://www.deuxiememarche.org with half of the proceeds going to the charity and half to the photographer.