November 19, 2015

Who’s French Now? The Most Political, and Poignant Aftermath Photos from the Paris Attack.

Naturally, the media sphere flooded with photos in the hours and the few days after Friday’s terror attack. The fact international photographers were attending Paris Photo only enhanced that fact. Because horrific urban assaults are not new, many of visuals — from the security response to impromptu gatherings for solidarity to remembrance rituals — were achingly familiar. The headline in Monday’s NY Times, however (“After Paris Attacks, a Darker Mood Toward Islam Emerges in France“), signaled something different, an instantaneous estrangement.

If the attack did, in a moment, change the way France sees its Muslims, its foreign born, and even non-whites, how did that inform, and even determine the immediate imagery?

I think these photos, the one above by AP’s Jerome Delay, and the two below by Magnum photographer’s Peter van Agtmael and Patrick Zachmann channel that concern, as does the widely distributed photo from the soccer stadium by AP’s Christophe Ena, but in an opposite way.

An astonishing number of news photos were taken of the bullet holes and fractured glass at the stricken Carillon Cafe. Some of those photos also captured employees inside. What’s so powerful about Delay’s image, though, is how it captures a Middle Eastern-looking man peering through the curtain at the artifacts of the horror. In his fixation and concern, of course, the man couldn’t show more affinity with France and its cafe culture. At the same time, however, his physical features, and more so, the fact he’s in this box and set-off from those Parisians in the reflection on the other side of the glass also frames the separation.

Then, there’s this photo from a feature titled: Slide Show: The Faces of Paris at the New Yorker. Taken by Peter van Agtmael, each portrait captures the deep worry and concern of random residents. (The woman in the first photo of the edit, by the way, seems so classically French.)  Coming, not coincidentally, I assume, near the end of the faces, the placement causes you take particular notice of this man as Arab and/or perhaps North African. Again, it’s simple appearance and ethnicity — in a sequence of Parisians otherwise uniform in their deep concern — that makes religion, and difference, a conduit.

Patrick Zachmann’s portrait of this young woman holding a flower outside the Bataclan concert hall, the site of the massacre, is a lot more literal. The striking contrast between her dark skin, her locs and the rose (and fanning out, the triangle she forms with the black man, near right, and the tall, more ethnic-looking man with the beard, in relation to the larger crowd) condenses the horror into emotion and also color. (If the photo takes us beyond religion, by the way, it doesn’t if the even deeper sensitivity now is to identity and difference.)

That the woman and the flower are so beautiful — her shock and the exquisite yellow rose conveying such deep compassion for France — makes her color and her race as powerful a contrast element as it is in Delay’s photo or van Agtmael’s.

Finally, because these photos were so unusual, I wanted to also offer you Ena’s image from the stadium. What’s that distinct is how the pictures above is how they compare to the vast sea of effecting images last weekend, flowing into this week, of lily white, and in this terrified woman’s case, blue-eyed Parisians bonding together.

(photo 1: Jerome Delay/APA. caption: A man looks out the bullet ridden windows of the Carillon cafe in Paris Saturday Nov. 14, 2015, a day after over 120 people were killed in a series of shooting and explosions.  photo 2: Peter van Agtmael/Magnum. photo 3: Patrick Zachmann/Magnum. (Larger set here.) caption: FRANCE. Paris.15/11/2015. After the islamist terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert venue. Boulevard Richard Lenoir, next to the Bataclan, people came continuously to put some flowers or words in remembrance of the victims on the ground. Some said they lost a friend. photo 4: Christophe Ena / AP. caption: Spectators embrace each other as they stand on the playing field of the Stade de France stadium at the end of a friendly soccer match between France and Germany in Saint Denis, outside Paris, on Friday, November 13, 2015. Hundreds made their way to the pitch after explosions were heard nearby.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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