Monday, October 10, 2011

Street Stories

Since the photos are already up online at the Kiernan Gallery, I thought I'd post the three of mine that were accepted and tell you the stories behind the photos.

 "Field Trip" (click on any of the photos to see them larger)

I was wandering around Place de la Nation and noticed a group of school kids on a field trip. Their teacher tried to give them a history lesson, but the kids were more interested in the graffiti that had been scrawled all over the statues. For me, this story reads on at least two levels, depending on how much information you have. The first level is about the interplay between the boys and the cherub. It treats budding adolescent humor, curiosity, phallocentrism (if you want to get deeper). The second level would require a closer shot and a knowledge of French politics. The graffiti on the poor cherub's privates reads "la bite de Sarkozy" (Sarkozy's...). One of Sarkozy's notorious remarks when he was campaigning to be President was that the suburbs (in France suburbs has the connotation that might be given to inner city in the U.S.) should be washing with bleach. That kind of callous, racist statement did nothing to help mend the gap between the bourgeois elite and the disenfranchised, unemployed youth of the suburban projects. The statue pictured is called the "Triumph of the Republic" in honor of the French Revolution. Today, Arab (especially Algerian), and to a lesser degree, West African second or third generation immigrants are often treated as second-class citizens (or, "third estate" I should say). In that light, the photo resonates on a more political level.


I was walking around the Saint Sulpice Church (which tourists never visited until the Da Vinci Code), when I saw some girls at the side of the church doing photos in a swimming suit and a headscarf. They looked like students doing an art project. They were most likely of Moroccan or Algerian origin and the headscarf (which initially she had covering her face) with swimming suit shoot in front of a Catholic church was clearly meant (or so I assumed) as an artistic statement. They made their way to the front of the church and I followed them. I stood at the side by the church entrance where a beggar woman sat waiting for passers-by to put change in her empty Starbucks cup.  I snapped a couple of photos and exchanged a smile with the woman as she looked at the camera. Then I put some money in her cup and she commented on the shoot going on behind her. "Elle est belle, n'est-ce pas?" (She's beautiful, isn't she?). This was the last thing I expected to hear from a woman with such apparent dedication to modesty. I titled the photo "Starbucks" to draw attention to the corporate logo on the cup, which for me, brings questions of capitalism and consumerism into the story of class, gender, culture.

"Angel of Repose"

I snapped this in the metro, all too aware of the disapproving gaze of the people around me. Or maybe that was just my fear of being exploitative. As a rule, I try not to take photos that mock people. In street photography, it's easy to make people look bad. But the French humanist photographers I admire (like Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson) never treated their subjects with disdain, so my aim is to keep things in the humanist tradition. Despite my initial hesitation, I realized that the target of the photo is not the man but the ad campaign, or rather, the stark contrast between the real conditions of poverty and the carefree images conjured up by a large and expensive department store. In other words, if anyone comes out looking bad, it's the people who don't have to sleep underground. On a technical level, the photo was very dark and needed noise reduction and exposure adjustments in processing. One difficult decision was how much to correct the white balance. The metro light is dark and yellow, so I decided to leave in some of that color cast when I did adjustments.

The first and third of the above photos were accepted for the online show and the "Starbucks" photo was one of the 30 accepted for the gallery. You can see all of the photos on the Kiernan Gallery's website.