Over the past two months, I have been able to have a lot of success on the streets. I don’t know if that has something to do with the fact that since the beginning of August I have taken my Ricoh GRD4 back for my wanderings in the streets of Saint-Denis or elsewhere. As I’ve said many times, it’s not the most responsive camera on the street, but it’s the same for a lot of photographers, there’s an alchemy going on with this or that camera. For some it will be a Leica, for others a Fuji, a Sony or a Pentax … For me it is with the Ricoh GRD4 that I am in symbiosis. I also liked the Ricoh GR a lot, but I still have a preference for the GRD4. Make no mistake, I only see these cameras as tools for what I do and nothing else. I don’t give names to my cameras, I don’t make feelings. It’s just a tool for capturing moments in the street, but it’s a tool I chose and it’s the Ricoh GRD4 that suits me best.
September and October were good months. Why ? By dint of doing Street Photography, we know when things are going well and when we struggle a little more to see and capture things. In general, I like the months following the start of the school year because I spent part of July / August (I stop saying summer because here in Reunion, it’s winter! ) to enjoy the family more with the school holidays. I always look forward to September to have a little more time to spend on the streets. This was still the case this year and for the past two months I’ve had a blast on the streets. But I also know that after moments of euphoria always follow moments of doubts, of questioning. The street is like that. Never take things for granted. And this is of course valid in both ways !
Last Friday, I was passing through Saint-Denis as usual before picking up the children from school. I have my little habits now. I always park in the same places and I will walk in the shopping street because I don’t have much time and I have to be at the exit of the school to pick up Joachim and Ronan. I had barely been 10 minutes in the city center that I was called by a guy that I often see in the city. It is a Chinese guy who is surely a political or other refugee on the island. Every day he holds a stand with someone from his family in the streets to denounce the Chinese government responsible for torture or other human rights violations. On the stand, many photos are displayed to support their words. I’ve walked past it before and the photos are clearly staged. We can see scenes of torture, organ harvesting … but these photos are not true. I’m not saying that these things are false but the photos are not real.
I never stopped to chat with them. I find it very good to denounce the actions of the Chinese government which is far from being a democracy, but I am not sure that showing these photos which are just staged ones serves their cause. In short, I was therefore challenged by this young Chinese who squarely yelled at me in English while filming me with his smartphone. He would ask me why I was spying on them and why I was taking pictures of them? I was quite surprised by the violence of his words. He had eyes full of hate and looked very angry. I tried to talk to him telling him that I take pictures in the street and that he was mistaken about my intentions. He called me a liar (in English of course), threatening to call the police. I invited him to do it if he wanted to because I had nothing to hide or blame myself. I quickly showed him what was doing on my smartphone, but he didn’t budge. For him, I was spying on him and his family and I was a liar. I tried to chat with him again, but his opinion was done and he didn’t want to chat with a spy …
At one point I asked him if he considered me a spy because I was of Chinese origin ? He didn’t answer me and I think he did. Can we blame him for being paranoid ? I don’t know what he and his family went through in China. They may have seen excruciating things or undergone things that surely made them very suspicious of others. I don’t know what their story is. I would never know because he will never speak to me. I’m a spy for the Chinese government … No one had ever done this to me before. It is obvious that in this situation, it is impossible to make this person listen to reason. It’s already complicated to make ordinary people understand why I take pictures of complete strangers in the street, but there, with people who have surely been persecuted and who have become suspicious of everything, it’s mission impossible.
This episode shocked me quite a bit and forced me to pause my work in the street to analyze certain things. Even if I know that I am not doing anything wrong in the street, I put myself in the shoes of the people I photograph in the street and I understand that their questions regarding my practice in the street are legitimate. Why does this guy allow himself to take pictures of me without even asking my opinion ? The law is on my side, I have the right in public places to take pictures of complete strangers. Good Ok I share them after the fact on my Blog or in slide shows and that, concretely I do not have the right. But until now case law has ruled in favor of the freedom of artistic expression which has prevailed over individual freedom. I never photograph people in situations that could damage their image. But even knowing all this. These altercations destabilize me and question me about the practice of Street Photography. As I said in the title of this Blog: “I’m just a human, after all …”. Besides, never forget that this also applies to people photographed in the street. They too have their history, their weaknesses, their dramas …
It’s been several days since I went back to the street. I needed to digest this episode. It touched me, but that won’t prevent me from returning to the streets soon. Sometimes it’s important to take a break to analyze what you’re doing in the street. I remain convinced that what I do is useful in my own way, to document the streets of Saint-Denis. The photos will obtain for some of them a documentary character in several years. Until now, I had lived in an environment that had kept me away from confronting the people I photographed. As I have already pointed out, it is much more difficult to do Street Photography here on Reunion Island. But I will continue because I like it. I’m not talking about confrontation, eh!
All photos were made with the Ricoh GRD4.