Barbès – Rochechouart: Photography in a War Zone
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Paris Karin and I went to the Barbès – Rochechouart district of Paris so I could get some shots of the Tati store for my Trailer Park Paris post. For those of you who don’t know the area, Barbès – Rochechouart is arguably the worst part of the city; gritty enough in the day time, you’d only want to go at night if you were heavily armed.
After a few initial snaps of the signs, I started in on the crowd when a burly black man with a walkie-talkie came up to me and in a mildly threatening tone told me photography wasn’t allowed.
The reason, I realized immediately, was that the street is lined with many men selling goods they display in the lining of their coats: watches, cigarettes, electronics… The guy who’d accosted me wanted to verify I wasn’t representative of local law enforcement collecting photographic evidence of the underhanded dealings. He made me show him the photos I’d taken and insisted I delete them in front of him. (I only deleted one and turned off the camera.) As we were leaving, he told me next time he’d call the cops, which made me smile because between the two of us, only one needed the police and it wasn’t him.
Karin and I crossed the street and snapped a few surreptitious shots before heading back to the Metro station. Once there, I decided I wanted to try and get some photos of the crowd for the blog, so I stood against a wall, lowered my camera to my waist and took a few random shots. A different sentry spotted me and started calling “M’ssieur” as he tried to catch up with me. I opted to play stupid tourist and just kept walking. He reached out and grabbed my wrist as I was going through the turnstiles. I shook him off and powered on while he hurled “F*ck your race” slurs after me.
The moral of the story? If you ever shop in the Barbés district of Paris, keep one hand on your wallet and don’t try to take a picture.