“In the current economic, environmental, and political climate, change seems the only constant we can hold onto. And with change comes movement. From shifting markets and politics to 24/7 Facebook feeds and global travel, flux defines our times. Even the production of a print magazine is a shifting series of negotiations, creative processes, and re-interpretations. In issue 09 Design Mind tries to capture this notion of movement in as many ways as possible, whether through the eyes of a ballet choreographer, a parent nurturing a hyperactive child, or a designer trying to manage the flow of ideas”. Source: Design Mind
Below is a continuation of this notion of motion in Denis Darzacq project La Chute (The Fall)
Down and out in Paris
The French riots of 2005 inspired the photographer Denis Darzacq to head for the housing estates on the outskirts of the capital. But he wasn’t after gritty shots of urban deprivation, he tells Angelique Chrisafis. He wanted something more – to capture an entire generation in freefall and with no one to catch them.
The surrealist René Magritte would have happily declared: “This is not a dancer. This is a young French person falling from the sky.” The French photographer Denis Darzacq is just as content to mess with people’s minds. His bizarre series La Chute (The Fall), on show in Paris, has gripped the French art world. People have clamoured to know what on earth is happening in these pictures – taken with a manual camera and not Photoshopped – in which impassive 20-year-olds seem about to hit the ground at high speed. Why are all the shutters closed behind them? Will anyone care if they splatter on the pavement? Will anyone even notice them tumbling to certain oblivion?
When The Fall won this year’s World Press Photo prize in the “arts and entertainment” category, the organisers rang Darzacq to ask the name of the dance company he had photographed. But it wasn’t a dance company. It was a carefully crafted response of Darzacq and a group of young French people to the alienation of youths on suburban housing estates after the riots that shook France in 2005. “I hate this visual idea of Paris as a baguette or Catherine Deneuve carrying a bunch of flowers,” Darzacq says. “That’s why we lost the Olympics. I’d like us to be able to speak of modernity without blushing.”
Darzacq was born in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, where he had every chance of bumping into Deneuve, but for decades he has lived and worked on the grittier streets of Paris, taking Renaissance-style portraits of people on poor housing estates and touring the characterless pedestrian shopping streets of small-town France.
In 2006, Darzacq dreamt up The Fall. It was partly the horror-struck idea of people falling from the twin towers on September 11, but it was mostly a depiction of an entire generation in France in free fall, ignored by society, their energy untapped and unused. He felt today’s France was the sort of place where someone could tumble from the sky without a net and no one walking down the street would bat an eyelid.
But Darzacq needed young people to play the role of these leaden, expressionless beings dropping from the clouds, and they had to be fit – able to hit the concrete over and over again without smashing themselves up. He went to watch hip-hop and break-dancing shows in Paris, and filmed them. He froze some fuzzy frames in which the dancers appeared to be falling from the sky and went back to them, saying, “I want you to do that.” They said no way, that they couldn’t. “But it’s you,” he said, pointing at the frames. They were intrigued.
The dancers set about inventing some moves. Darzacq then surveyed the 19th arrondissement for locations, seeking out the most banal modern architecture repeated like an Identikit across Europe, giving the sense that this could be anywhere. But why do all the shutters and blinds seem to be closed – had he asked everyone to lock up shop?
“Find me any ground-floor flat in Paris where the shutters or windows are open,” Darzacq replies. “People are afraid of each other, everyone is a victim of crime – that’s a constant reality in Paris. I didn’t ask anyone to close their blinds. It’s the sad reality of how people live. Who would even see a kid fall?”
He took each dancer on to the street for sessions of up to two hours. He didn’t want recognisable moves, or recognisable clothes. They went to market stalls to buy mundane outfits. He took only one shot per movement.
François Gautret, 27, who runs a hip-hop collective in northern Paris, was one of Darzacq’s subjects. “I wanted to capture the sense of the split second before hitting the ground,” he says. “It was cold, the concrete was very hard, in one picture you can even see my sleeves pulled down over my knuckles so I didn’t wreck my hands when I landed. I totally got his idea of a society in which youth is ignored, feared and left to crash. Even now, during the elections, everyone’s still using Nicolas Sarkozy’s line that every young person on an estate is racaille [rabble], that all anyone does is burn cars.”
Bintou Dembele, 31, a hip-hop dancer from one of Paris’s southern suburbs, says, “We had to work very fast, the moves had to be very efficient, people were walking down the street, there was no time for hesitation. I was very conscious of him watching me. There was this second each time when we just clicked.”
Dembele started dancing in the street at the age of 10, part of the second generation of self-taught break-dancers and street dancers in France who have struggled but made it to the mainstream. Sitting in a dance studio on Paris’s Left Bank, as young girls arrived with their mothers for her hip-hop class, Dembele says she found the finished photographs a “shocking beautiful” comment on French suburban youth. “I come from there, I know all about the energy of the place that’s going untapped.”
Another subject was Thierry Rivière, 25, an illustrator from the French Indian Ocean island of La Réunion, who found out about the project by word of mouth at his capoeira group. He describes his moves as levitation, captured on the way down. “Denis was very specific. He wanted no grimacing, he wanted us to be expressionless. The idea of the forgotten urban generation is something I have never experienced, though. In La Réunion, you are poor, but it is a more simple life.”
Darzacq is proud that his work remains open to interpretation. “I like the fact that you can read into these photos whatever you want. Will we let them hit the ground? Will anyone rush out to scoop them up?” ·