The current political climate in France may not be the best but if you want to practice street photography there are few occasions better than taking a camera with you to a protest.
I’m not going to let you in what I think of the raging debate but I had the opportunity to take photographs during the 8 weeks of protest rocking Paris and France. It’s been quite an education.
I’ve also gotten heavily into processing B&W film at home. My usual workflow has been meeting friends at the protest, walk and shoot about a roll or so of film, go back home, process it in the evening and scan the following day (no printing yet as I don’t have a darkroom handy).
Shooting street scenes is not natural at all for me as I’m naturally shy and self conscious. I figured I could use the opportunity to train myself and make it easier for me to point a lens at someone, close up (even cops, it turns out).
And boy was it hard.
As Capa said "if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough". Two months in my little training program and I can see how he was right.
Getting close enough proves challenging in everyday life scenarios. In large protests where the people density can reach 2 to 4 protesters by square meter, I found it easier. People pay less attention to you. The people around you may notice you but you’re only one of a thousand photographers around. They are much more concerned about what’s happening in front of them and especially concerned with what they cannot see when tear gas starts flowing towards them.
In that anonymity I found it much easier to get close to subjects around me. See for instance this shot of a wounded protestor in the rue de Rivoli around 4:30PM (if I remember correctly):
Nothing too fancy here. The composition is OK ish although I would have preferred to get closer even. If I remember correctly this was shot with my Canon LTM 50mm f1.4 at about 2 meters (6 feet). The fireman who dressed the head wound walked into the frame just as I took the picture. I guess it makes the picture a little bit more interesting.
This one seems to be the one that friends like the most. I have no idea why. The frame within the frame works OK with the signs that the two persons are carrying. The density looks fine to me and it’s technically not a bad picture, I just wish I could feel what they all seem to feel. Or maybe it’s just the "Darmanin ouin-ouin" sign that cracks them up!
This one is just a study of a wall and not much more. As is always the case in French protests, taglines get more creative everyday and this kind of pun (protège - prothèse) always draws a smile on my face.
I’m happy with the way this one turned out. This guy dresses as a clown and I saw him in all the protests I went to. He dangles his little box marked "Retraite" (pensions) on a fish hook in front of the marching protesters.
He always made me uneasy, which is the point I guess. I like that the photograph captures the expression of his face, and his grin.
Also: intersting composition, with almost a golden spiral (kinda), triangles and diagonals! Neat.
Last picture of this day. I took this at the end of the rue Saint Antoine, on the Place de la Bastille. On the right (out of the frame) are one of the office of the Banque de France. At the end of the protest, this place became of hotspot for police and protestor action.
As I was walking I witnessed some very weird police action : police firing tear gas cannisters at protesters who had climbed on the statue, at the risk of hitting them or having them fall from 10 feet; random charges on the people on the place, in their majority peaceful and calm; intimidation tactics with police squads crossing the street to cut off protestors and split the procession in the rue Saint Antoine.
When I arrived at the end of the rue Saint Antoine, I heard a commotion behind me. Turning around to face where I was coming from I saw 20 or so policemen in full armour charging in my general direction. I only had a couple of seconds to snap the shot, without proper focus. A couple of seconds later the gentleman looking to the right was on me, baton in hand and arm in the air. I quickly decided to move to the right and managed to get behind the press photographer with the white helmet.
After a few seconds to process what had happened I decided to leave.