Walking alone down the streets of Marseilles was not like walking alone anywhere else in Provence. Elsewhere in Provence there was a sense of mystery, a sense of uncovering something – a new friend, a new color, a new pastry, a new scent … Walking down the streets of Marseilles I found a sense of density, of the everyday, the mundane, the overcrowded city usual. Whether it was being alone in a crowd, or the only one on the streets, walking by myself in Marseille gave me the sense of being really alone. Not lonely, just alone. And I questioned why I was there.
Walking through the old city I found myself with the narrow streets all to moi-même, while the locals took their late coffee in their neighborhood cafes, or tended to their families before dinner. And as I walked down the Montée des Accoules, I found a woman also standing alone by a gate to a schoolyard smiling brightly with her hands clasped in front of her. She called me over and asked me if I liked photography. I replied ‘yes’, then wondered how odd, then added ‘I do’. ‘Well there is a little exhibition in the school,’ and she promptly invited me to go see it.
She took me by the arm and pointed me across the courtyard to the entrance. I walked up the two flights of stairs to a school room filled with children and their parents and teachers. I asked the first young girl I saw to point me in the direction of the photography exhibition, and she escorted me to another stairwell where the melange of small photographs were hung in a mosaic on the wall. Then she took a moment to explain their photography project to me.
Their teacher had given each of the students a little throw away instamatic camera and a week to use them. They were told to go out and photograph their neighborhood – the very one I had just walked through. As I looked at the photos, I got a sense of the color of both their immediate environment as well as a sense of the life that these kids live, a sense of their point of view … A piece of African Dutch Wax cloth serving as a curtain in a street level window. Dog poop on the sidewalk. A view down the street. A doorway. A car. A fountain. Graffiti. A highrise apartment building. Their neighbors going about their business.
Their snippets of the neighborhood were pieces that I immediately recognized, some of them were even places that I myself had photographed to serve as my memories while I walked on the streets alone, and while I was on my way to finding theirs. The purpose of this assignment was for the children to intimately see their environment, to give them a new perspective, but by looking at their photos, I began to see that it was a way for me to do so as well.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone in Marseilles.
From French to English