Banlieue


Photo by Olivier Laban Mattei. AFP/Getty


After two nights of riots in the Paris Suburb of Villiers-le-Bel, over 70 police officers have been injured. The riots were sparked after two teenagers died following a crash involving their moped and a police vehicle. The police claim the vehicle was unregistered and the driver was going at top speed. Neither rider was wearing a crash helmet. Local residents accuse the police of fleeing the scene, leaving the accident victims to die.

The photographs from such riots almost always present the rioters from a distance. It reminds me of embedded journalists work from the front lines in war zones. Always close up shots of helmeted, body armoured men with guns. Probably this is because the photographers learn about these events from the police and feel safer behind the riot shields anyway. However, having been caught up in (fortunately few) riots myself I can honestly say that your own and your friends safety is of primary concern in these situations; especially if you are in the mob and I don't expect any photographer to run into a cloud of tear gas and start photographing rioters. Pulling out my camera was certainly far from the front of my own mind!

It does strike me though that social unrest is a complicated subject and photographs of a crowd of masked men throwing molotov cocktails is hardly going to add anything to the understanding of the problem's roots and causes, no matter how descriptive of a night of violence it may be. I would be interested to see if there is any work being done by photographers on this subject in France, which has long had problems of this nature erupt into violence on the streets.

In 1995 I saw a film called La Haine. It is my all time favourite movie. It comes across more documentary than fiction and if you can find a copy of the DVD with commentary by Director Mathieu Kassovitz you'll find out why. I'm not going to explain further because I think you should check it out yourself. Watch it once without the commentary, then again with. Then watch it again. And again. There are practical lessons here on the role of fact in fiction, on documenting people and places and for anybody interested in society, power, police and politics, immigration and inner city living it provides much food for thought. I could talk about this film for hours.

The French Parliment were given a special screening of the film on it's release. Seems that no lessons have been learned in the past decade.



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