Paris undercurrents (2004 - 2019)
Paris is my spiritual home. I lived in the 14e arrondissement for two glorious years, and after, in the edgy side of the Marais. My home was a studio perched high above the rue des Francs Bourgeois. I rented from a sculptor who had decamped to work in New York. The floors were bare concrete, the table an old wooden tea chest mounted on rusty wheels, and the washing machine bright yellow, sized for a doll’s house. The number for the telephone kiosk on the corner was my preferred method of contact, and I would have to sprint downstairs whenever it rang. My life-long Swedish friend helped me move my bags by service bus from our old place in Montsouris. On the first day, the electricity went off. I summoned an electrician, Monsieur Gad, who was recommended by a Saint-Germain hairdresser, and arrived at the door, cigarette in mouth, plastic bag in hand containing his tools - one screwdriver, one hammer. That day marked the start to an extremely eventful sojourn in the Marais.
The city is a photographer’s dream. As one would expect from its Belle Époque past, visual culture is in the blood. Aesthetically, it veers often quite severely between stereotypical picture-perfection, to brutal, postmodern city. I find the contrasts between the two utterly seductive. At first glance, every detail is measured: Precise, radial streets; artistry of the boulanger’s tartes; sinewy handwriting on signs and menus. Scratch beneath that, and one finds the true heartbeat: Dingy, dark and very much of its time. The 1960s and 70s were a rocky period for French design, architecture and urban planning, in Paris spawning the unfit-for-purpose banlieues défavorisées; dingy RER stations; and the Tour Montparnasse.
There’s something deeply compelling about how the two extremes meld around one another. France is known for being fiercely protective of tradition and history. Despite innovating in many ways (Paris brought the first shared bike service to Europe), the city has resisted the Anglo drive to make things more sleek, more efficient. I like how things that don’t quite work are spared for their charisma, and how they create a story of the past: Layer upon layer of modernised emblems for the metro; train carriages’ manual door handles; tolerance for smoking on café terraces; rickety, minuscule cage elevators that fit two at a squeeze...
Selecting these photographs from my archive, I was thrown by how difficult it is to date the images. These were all captured roughly between 2004-2019. While styles in London, New York or Berlin change with the wind, Paris remains classic, reinforcing an unwavering, staunchly Parisian attitude. I also noticed my predilection for bicycle culture, café life, and ramshackle buildings bedecked in peeling paint. Assisted by my choice of film (a mix of Superia, Ektar 100, HP5 and XP2), one could as easily be in 1955 as 2005.