I arrived in Aix-en-Provence at the end of 1997, a few months before this month of July 1998 blessed by all French Footix. That year, the French Football team became for the first time World Champion of Football. Footix was the mascot of this World Cup. I do not know why during these planetary events, there are always these ridiculous mascots. Here Footix was a pretty ridiculous cock whose name was a distant reminder to the irreducible Gallic of Uderzo. You know Asterix, Obelix, Idefix, Panoramix … Since I think that the term Footix has become pejorative when you speak of someone who loves football. I so have spent more than 20 years in Aix-en-Provence before moving to this lost island in Indian Ocean. How long do we live ? 80 years ? A bit more for some. I spent 1/4th of my life in Provence. I met my wife, I became a dad and I also discovered the Street Photography late at the age of 40. When I see some young people starting street photography, I’m a little envious because I thought that if I had been interested in Street Photography in the 80s, I could have documented this period and all those who follow-up … Regrets ? A little yes.
A little more than 3 years ago when I started to document the streets of Aix-en-Provence, I thought to finish my days in my little village of Jouques and I thought that I would spend the next half century to walk the same streets of Aix. In the beginning, I experienced some frustration with the small size of my city, but later realized that what was important in Street Photography was to photograph people, not places. The possibilities are endless and I have never felt any tiredness during my wanderings in Aix-en-Provence. And yet I always went to the same places. I do not know exactly how many photos I took, but it must be in tens of thousands …
I did not prepare for a departure from Aix. As I told you, I was thinking of ending my old days there. Now that I’m gone, it seems important to me to summarize these three years spent there. In fact I do not know what to say about Aix. It is a city where I have lived for so many years that I prefer to let my pictures speak instead of describing it. This is a place I loved and I will miss it for sure. I was at home in the streets. It was my playground. I had not prepared to write a blog. Maybe unconsciously, I told myself that if I wrote it, it would mean that the Aix page would definitely be turned. And I did not want that.
A lot has happened since I started Street Photography. Many things that I already mentioned in the Blogs that I wrote since 2016. I do not intend to repeat here and if you are interested, I invite you to read all my old Blogs (Good luck) .. As you can imagine, I have prepared an umpteenth slide show with what I consider the most interesting of my years in Aix. I have drawn in this selection some photos that have a little history. I will tell you about Aix through these photos.
This photo was made on the Place Albertas well known to Aix. It is a very touristy place but is not easy to photograph because it is quite rare that the place is fully lit. There are always big differences in brightness here. That day there were not many people and the only tourists were huddled on this side of the pavement to take pictures of the fountain that was on the square. I had faced people to try to deal with all those small groups of people who were on the sidewalk. My attention was drawn to this girl who was walking up the street. She had a huge white headband in her hair. I had placed myself judiciously in the street so that she passes on my left. This technique of forcing people to go where you want to go does not work all the time. Sometimes people spot you and take the big turn to avoid you … This girl passed by the lady with the hat and had to hear something that she did not like because she kept walking in my direction looking back at her grumbling I do not know what. She turned around just when she was at my level on my left and we were close. I just heard at this moment “bitch” ! Presumably it was not addressed to me otherwise she would have said “asshole” ! This photo alone sums up the magic of the Ricoh GRD 4 which is just exceptional at the depth of field.
Certainly one of my favorite photos that I brought back from Aix-en-Provence. It was taken in a small courtyard where is located the municipal health service of the city hall of Aix. This photo is the essence of Street Photography as I see it. A fragment of life taken on the spot. This place is quite little frequented even if from time to time, there are some tourists to take pictures of the Joseph Sec Mausoleum (former carpenter and wood merchant from Aix). These two people work in the offices and gave each other a cigarette break. This is not the first time I saw them smoking outside. But that day, I decided to enter the courtyard. In the end I attended this scene where these two people came back to work after their break in their respective offices. That’s when the lady had this gesture that made me click. I love this picture because it is mysterious and taken on the spot. Here too this photo was made with the Ricoh GRD 4.
This photo, you figure that I forgot to put it in the slideshow ! It was taken not far from the Pasteur car park where I used to park when I went to Aix. I took a lot of pictures at the red light waiting to cross the street. As you can see, it is not always nice on Aix (eh John !) Here too I love this picture because it is a rather ordinary scene. What I like about pedestrian crossings is that people are often waiting to cross. It gives rise to small scenes like this one. It’s pretty rare that all the elements line up perfectly in the street and this was the case here. The gestures of the girl with the cigarette, the woman who yawns and the motorcycle in the background.
This photo was taken on the esplanade of the Darius Milhau conservatory. This part of the city is more modern because more recent. The spaces are larger and we have in the same place, the Grand Theater of Provence, the Black Pavilion (for dance) and therefore the Conservatory. I like this place because it is very geometric. This morning, the light was beautiful. What is complicated here is the size of the places. They are just huge and not particularly crowded. The difficulty was to place oneself properly so as not to be too far away from people. It was a clever placement game to get them where I wanted. This place is huge and a static person in the middle necessarily attracts attention. Here, this gentleman saw from very far away that I was taking pictures. Passing in front of me, he deliberately hid his face. I was not asking so much of you. My attitude influenced the scene. What gave this picture pretty funny. A few minutes later, the man came back to me to ask me what I was doing. I talked a little with him about the work I did on the street. He found it weird. I showed him the picture and he found me even more weird to have taken this picture …
I also forgot to include this one in my slideshow about Aix-en-Provence. Here too, there was interaction. This morning, as often in Aix, it was a little mess in the traffic. The streets were jammed and it was honking everywhere. I saw this lady making big gestures in front of the cars blocking her way. I exchanged a few words with her on the traffic situation and I took the opportunity to take pictures on the fly as I often do. This photo was made with the Ricoh GRD 4 from the hip. I only work at 28 mm and I know this focal pretty well not to have to look on the screen to see if the framing is good. Here it was pretty tricky because I was pretty close to this lady. The Ricoh GRD 4 with its small sensor and its depth of field of madness is perfect for from the hip shots because we do not have to worry about the focus. This is the ultimate point & shoot.
This photo was made with the Ricoh GRD 4. The focus is not perfect, but it has something that I like. I was walking in the middle of the street when I saw this woman come out of a building and come in my direction with her dangling cigarette. I did not do anything to let her go. I think we got a little close. In almost all the city center of Aix-en-Provence, the streets are narrow and allowed me to be close to people to make close-ups. Besides, I think that influenced my photographic style at first. I did a lot and I still do a lot of pictures of this style. For some time I’m moving away a bit, preferring capturing scenes. There is a lot of energy coming out of this picture. Only GRD 4 offers the same rendering. It’s organic.
I had to present you this picture that I do not think I shared. This is Elizabeth Char a Parisian friend who also does street photography. This photo was made 2 years ago when we went to the vernissage of a Chinese photographer whose name I do not remember. It was on the occasion of PhotAix. I will miss our little walks in Aix … Dear Eli, I leave you the task of continuing to document the streets of Aix-en-Provence after my departure. You’ll do it as well as I did, I’m sure ! And it will allow me to see photos of Aix-en-Provence through your eyes and your sensitivity. You are one of the few street photographers I met during these few years of practice. It’s like photography, I’ve always favored quality over quantity.
What remains of my stay in Aix ? Thousands of photos that pile up on my hard drive. More than 60 years ago, an American photographer was working on Aix-en-Provence. This is Harry Callahan. He did not only photos of the streets of the city, but also photos of the Aix countryside. This year, there was a retrospective on his work at the Musée Granet. I blame myself for having missed … I was pretty busy with my move. Why am I talking to you about all this ? I like to think that in about fifty years, my photos will have a more documentary dimension.
More than 50 years ago, the first street photographers were visionaries. How many street photographers today in New York, Hong Kong, London, San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris or other major cities ? Street Photography has become fashionable and thousands of people are practicing it. Very few people do street photography in small towns because it’s ungrateful. You can spend whole days without having anything interesting to capture. Let’s be realistic, most of the time in the street nothing happens unless you live in big cities. But do you need something special to do Street Photography ? For me, street photography rhymes with banality, ordinary, routine. I am happy to have done this work in Aix-en-Provence.
You will find below, a very long slide show containing a hundred photos of my visit to Aix-en-Provence. After visualizing it, I realized that I forgot to include some photos. It does not matter. The essential is nevertheless there. This is my tribute to the city of Cézanne.