In one of my classes I had the idea of a project i always wanted to do since I moved to Paris. The project consists of going to the suburbs of Paris, the 93 district, and just photograph people there and learn about their stories. I hoped like that I could take away a stigmatization of a whole society by another one. The 93 district’s population is stigmatized by society, as there is a lot of immigrants and a high criminality rate. Especially in 2005 after the death of two young men, the department got know for it’s violent youth, by burning cars and house.
The way society projected an image on especially young people living there, got a counter reaction, in exactly the same way people expected those other people to react: violently. The architecture of the buildings enforced the image of a “ghetto-society”, the entrance not accessible for other’s then living there, enforces the places to become a drug dealing spot.
Looking at J.R.’s work i was really impressed what he did to fight exactly this ghettofication of a society.
So when I told my teacher that I was about to go to Clichy sous Bois because I knew somebody who lived there and was willing to show me around, he told me that this could be very dangerous and I rather should not do it. He also told me to look at this video of J.R., which was (what a coincidence also done in Clichy sous Bois.)
I was even more impressed considering that it was a video about somebody actually going to this “very dangerous” place and trying to connect the images and faces of those people living there, connoted by a bad reputation considering their cultural background, as well as their way to dress and the place they lived, with a place like the center of Paris. Everyone there could see those images and relate to them from human to human.
Going there two days ago for my own project I realized that even the video done had a connotation which did not correspond to the entire impression I had doing my research about the 93 and my visit to Clichy sous Bois.
A lot of the buildings in the past 10 years have been torn down and rebuild. The bad reputation still exists, online as well as in stories told from one to another, as well as in the news about this place which is most of the time negative news.
Where as from my own experience I can tell that it is a suburb, who through it’s bad reputation from the past, it’s rumors about all the youth being “bad guys” and criminals, creates a vicious circle projected on a whole community. ( I am not saying that this does not exist there, but it is not the only place and people should not judge from something they never experienced on their own and from others projection.) The sense of community and familiarity is very strong, people greet each other on the street, stop and talk to their neighbors. Like everywhere people also have a life, although very sceptic about other people taking photographs of them. Before J.R. and after, the guy who showed me around told me, a few people already made a “project” about Clichy sous Bois and the 93 and it’s inhabitants. Together with journalists going there to photograph it becomes a skeptical way of putting people who actually want to live a normal life in their neighborhood on a status which doesn’t represent their way of living in the real sense. It is a deeper and more complex reality of a problem, which is quite difficult to grasp in one “art project” about the people there. It is different factors about how we judge from appearance and stories, which for sure come to reality sometimes, but also because the stigmatization exists and we believe in it. This would explain a psychological aspect of representing reality and the representation becoming reality. On top of that the density of youth unemployment given in the news etc. gives the impression of an “underdeveloped” part of Paris. But we should not forget to also tell the positive aspects, the rebuilding of those cement blocks to more nice looking buildings, the urban planning and development in this direction. The familiarity and the invisible boundaries of the community, the educational aspect etc. Considering people there as same then we would consider us, in a way restricted by what has happened and in which direction the story was taken further.
If we forget to see, acknowledge and show improvement society looses interest and hope in rebuilding itself and helping to rebuild it, because what we don’t see we don’t believe. Showing this will maybe help to give motivation to keep on and tell the positive stories about the place.