November 19, 2015

Less Than a Day Later, a Paris All-Too-Normal. (Photo: Alex Majoli)


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Even if you saw it before, I think this photo deserves the contemplation. It’s from a CNN gallery by Alex Majoli taken in the aftermath of the Paris attack. The caption states:

A woman reads a publication with bolded and capitalized letters spelling out l’horreur, while people all around her fork pieces of food from their plates. “People were standing outside, having their brunch or whatever, and literally 100 meters away, eight hours before, 18 people (were) being killed,” Majoli said.

If it’s primarily about Parisians reclaiming their cafe life and affirming their resilience, a theme repeated often this week, I wonder if the photo isn’t more provocative than that.

In the mundanity, the historical texture of the black-and-white and the relegation of trauma to history, I can’t help doubting the business-as-usual. The disbelief also comes through in Majoli’s quote, in its incredulousness. While “getting back on one’s feet” is completely understandable, the abject normality, not to mention the sense of appetite, actually leaves me feeling anxious. The surreal quality not only prevents me from dispensing the moment to history but makes me think about the scene more prospectively.

What I mean is, is the consequence here that terror in the west just comes with the territory? If so, then the real horror is considering terror less of a symptom than a routine.

(If you find the photo unnerving as well, the responses in the rest of the slideshow are far more recognizable.)

(photo: Alex Majoli/Magnum)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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