Friday, October 30, 2015

Barred in Paris

One of the treats for my big forthcoming birthday was to visit the photography exhibition in Paris: 'Qui a peur des femmes photographes' (Who's afraid of women photographers) The tongue-in-cheek reference to Virginia Woolf was echoed by a portrait of her mother, taken by one of the photographers featured. The hint of an allusion to the big, bad wolf was no accident either.

The exhibition challenged, informed and inspired me. We think our digital cameras are state-of-the-art but Kodak happily targeted the mass photographer market a hundred years ago with tag lines like 'You press the button; the camera does the rest'. Queen Victoria thought photography an appropriate hobby for ladies and as long as the ladies kept their cameras focused on family and flowers, everybody was happy. But women did not stay confined within their Brownie - or any other - Boxes. Nor did photography remain a bourgeois hobby. If you are lucky enough to see the exhibition, you'll find photography beyond gender as well as imagery exploring gender; from war journalism to smashed dolls.

Maybe the ghosts of Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller and Lisette Model whispered in my ear as I re-visited Paris. For many years, I have focused beyond the bars - made them disappear. If I didn't see them, they couldn't stand in my way. When I am described as a 'woman writer' or - ironically, in view of this wonderful exhibition - a 'woman photographer', bars are created. Is the glass ceiling there if I behave as if it's not? 

Self-portrait: Going through the glass ceiling
Even if the exhibition hadn't got me thinking about women's exclusion in the past from e.g. The National Geographical Society, being in a city always makes me feel constrained, regardless of gender. I love the explosion of culture and contrasts in cities - for a maximum of five days. Then the feeling of being trapped becomes too much for me. In Paris, this time, I let myself see the bars. Here are a small selection of the images and all twenty-six can be seen in my new gallery. 

Paris, the honeymoon city

Notre-Dame behind locks; Pont de l'Archevêché

Since 2010, the craze has spread for couples to declare their love by attaching a padlock (!) to a bridge and throwing the key into the Seine. I'd be tempted to throw the man in with it if he offered me such a 'romantic' gesture. Despite the removal of padlocks from one bridge, which was breaking under the weight, the craze continues and entire bridges are covered. Any railings are now starting to display padlocks. 

The Seine at Night

City gardens and parks are forbidding places behind their fences and walls, prohibitive signs and controlled access. Plants and flowers live behind bars.

This sign for 'Keep off the grass' reminds me of political posters protesting repressive regimes. But we are in France...

Don't Kill the Grass in Winter

Such signs arouse the instinctive rebel in me. Before I saw the 'Don't pee in public' sign, I never considered doing so.

The City and the City by China Miéville describes two cities occupying the same space, the inhabitants of one city pretending not to see the inhabitants of the other, and that dislocation is what I felt, sitting in a cosy bar, drinking a glass of wine, looking at this window. 

Nouvel Arrivage

You can see the whole gallery here in the Photography Galleries on my website. If you find my photos interesting, you can see a selection in my illustrated collection of shorts One Sixth of a Gill, free if you sign up for my newsletter. 

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