Il était une fois…


Today, I played photojournalist. I met Michael Sawyer, a British photographer living in France and working for the Associated Press, and we journeyed out into Le Marais, the gay and Jewish neighborhood of Paris.

Before we went out, Sawyer warned us that a lot of people in France do not appreciate having their pictures taken and that it’s their right to say no. We were also cautioned that it was not uncommon for subjects to become violent or angry. This made me a little wary. In America, I can just take photos of whomever I want, whenever I want as long as they’re in public. But as Sawyer said, “That is America. This is France.”

At first, I didn’t believe we were going to find anything photo-worthy in Le Marais. I wasn’t seeing any Hasidic Jews, and gay people aren’t easily recognizable. But then, we turned a corner. On the street  was a synagogue and many men dressed in black suits and simple black hats, with curls and beards. We made camp for a while, but I felt extremely awkward.

We were imposing on their street, in their community. Five Americans with big cameras and beady eyes were gawking in any direction a man went. Few that I tried to speak to spoke English, and I didn’t know enough French to ask them to “let me take a picture of them” and to “not step out of my frame.”

We then walked down toward the gay community. There too I felt awkward. We gaggled outside  a gay bar, receiving unfriendly looks from the locals. I can’t blame them. They were having coffee and we were staring, unable to communicate that we were interested only in the history of where they lived. By this time I started giving up taking photos of people. There were too many of us, we were too opposing, and it just was not friendly.

I focused on some street art and stickers instead.


2 Responses to Il était une fois…

  1. Dr Bill Silcock says:

    Street lessons on diversity and privacy that no doubt will remain with you for years ahead Alex

  2. cschwalbe says:

    It’s difficult to shoot photos of people in a pack. You can break away from the group and work at a distance. Just keep an eye of where the group is going. Or arrange to meet up with everyone at a given spot at a given time.

    David Alan Harvey is one of National Geographic’s best street shooters. He makes himself “invisible” so he blends in. He wears unobtrusive clothing and shoots with a 50mm lens. You don’t need a big lens.

    Another technique is to sit at an outdoor cafe and watch the world go by. Or find a spot that will make a good photo and wait for someone to walk into your frame.

    Even if you don’t speak the language, eye contact and body language can work wonders.

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