Street Photography in Saint-Denis 4

I will soon be living in Reunion Island for a year. Next October, I will blow out my first candle. Last year when I left Aix-en-Provence, I had spent the last 3 years walking the streets of this city. I knew it perfectly. Even though I found it intimidating to photograph people when I was starting out, in the summer of 2019, before embarking for Reunion Island, I had reached a stage where I no longer wondered where things were going. Everything was fluid and simple on the street.



Frankly, I have countless photos from August of last year that I consider my favorites from those Aix years ! Everything was simple, I say again. I saw an interesting scene and I clicked : Bam ! keeper. Quantitatively, I had reached a level that I had not imagined. It was like a dream. As much to say to you that the awakening was rather brutal on Reunion island … I believed for a long time that my difficulties stemmed from the changes which were underway in my routine life. New assignment, new living environment, professional questioning … I won’t hide from you that these elements surely had a certain effect on my photography. But now that I’ve spent a year here, I can tell there was something else behind it …



I can affirm that it is much more difficult to do Street Photography in Saint-Denis than in Aix en Provence, Marseille, Rome, Paris or any place I have been in the last few years. First of all, the situations are sorely lacking. Saint-Denis is a big city, but nothing is happening there … The city center is dead and there is no dynamic. Nothing that hold people back. Bars, terraces or places. It’s crazy. It is still the largest city in the DOM (Overseas Department), and it is a city without life. It should be noted that the streets are more crowded on Saturdays and this is clearly the day when I can have interesting photographically speaking opportunities … But the rest of the time, forget about it.



The second thing that makes things complicated is its people themselves. Here we have Arabs, Tamils, Comorians, Chinese, Africans, Creoles and Zoreils (local name given to metropolitans …). A very heterogeneous population with different religions. The first ethnic groups mentioned are very community-based even if everyone lives well together. Taking pictures is often a challenge because cameras are often frowned upon. Even if I walk around with my Ricoh GRD4 which is very discreet, I am constantly being thrown disapproving looks when I take pictures. There are not only looks, but also words that would be able to discourage the less experienced street photographers.



A lot of times I have to shoot blind (from the hip) because I know it’s the only way to try and capture a scene without creating a confrontation. And the confrontation is latent in Reunion because people do not hesitate to call out to you if something does not please them and they are ready for a confrontation, even physical if it is necessary. Yes we are hot-blooded here and it is not only due to the sun … What I am telling you here is a reality. Despite my 4 years of practice, I am not fearless in the streets. I try to stay away from problems and confrontations by adopting a low profile in the street. I don’t hide to take pictures, but I take a lot of precautions. I act quickly and try to always stay on the move to instill doubt in the person photographed. “He couldn’t have photographed me there anyway !!? …” I never make Eye Contact with the people photographed.



I would like to take more time, but frankly having done it several times, I get spotted quite quickly. Saint-Denis is not a tourist town and someone with a camera, no matter how discreet, quickly attracts attention. And it’s a shame because despite everything, the city offers moments of pure grace that we would like to capture by taking the time, but it’s very complicated …



So far, I haven’t had a lot of troubles because I take a lot of precautions on the street. Even avoiding taking some photos because fearful of a misinterpretation of what I do. No need to go and explain that you do Street Photography to anyone here … In the end, things were easier in Aix-en-Provence. No one was paying attention to me. This difficulty is certainly felt in the photos that I now take in Reunion. Lots of photos taken from the hip, taken from further away. I have to reinvent my photography here to be able to continue documenting the streets of Saint-Denis. What worked elsewhere does not work here. It’s not a bad thing. Because in the end, it is still an evolution in my photographic journey. My work will inevitably be different from the one I was able to do in Aix-en-Provence. We’ll see where it takes me …



All the photos were made with the Ricoh GRD4.

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4 thoughts on “Street Photography in Saint-Denis

  • John Wilson

    How much of the inaction can you say is caused by virus and people still Leary about socializing and is the your new normal? Would Aix be different also because of virus?

    • Jeff Chane-Mouye Post author

      The most difficult thing to me here on the island is the different cultures of the inhabitants. Its a gift as well as you have very different ethnies. But man, they are very suspicious when you have a camera in your hand. Sometimes they have small business and they fear that you might be a policeman. It’s the same in some neighbourhoods in Marseille, Aix or Paris. But here on Réunion Island, it’s the normality. The city is colourful and full of this. That makes things difficult for street photography.
      But I need to get use to that. Time is needed and I have to work differently for sure. Not sure that this Covid-19 thing has anything to do with it.
      The population of Aix-en-Provence is very different when it comes to downtown where I used to spend a lot of time. Lot of tourists and very few of the ethnies I’am dealing with on Réunion. Some neighbourhoods as I said, have the same feeling as reunion island, but I knew that it was very difficult to make street photography overthere and I avoided theses places. Here on the island I can’t avoid these places otherwise I would need to give up on street photography…

  • John Harper

    Much more difficult to shoot Street in a non-tourist city. To begin with there’s no real excuse to be walking around with a camera. People are suspicious. Also in the COVID era there won’t be many tourists in those touristy cities, so we’re facing a similar problem either way. For me there’s little difference between Bristol or Bath, if anything Bristol is somewhat easier, only because it’s a little busier with ‘normal’ citizens going about their lives. You’ll see in my next blog. Anyway, having said that looks as though you’re still producing the goods: The girl with the mannequins and the boys with their mother really are fabulous photographs.

    • Jeff Chane-Mouye Post author

      Non touristy places are more difficult to photograph and you quickly draw attention with your camera. If you add over this some ethnies who are reluctant to be Photographed, you face a really difficult situation for street photography…
      The comorians kid ‘s one what shot from the hip. Its good to master the 28mm… The other one you mentioned is just fishing. I’m starting again to do some light/shadow… Hellllpppp! Kidding…