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Sunday, March 22, 2015


by Catherine Wald

A new photography exhibition featuring images taken by Paris’ homeless and most vulnerable citizens was inaugurated by Deputy Mayors Bruno Julliard and Dominique Versini this week. The photos are on display on the railings surrounding Paris City Hall. This new initiative is the outcome of a partnership developed between 'Deuxième Marche', a nonprofit association offering assistance and educational opportunities to vulnerable individuals in France, and the start-up Wipplay, which organizes amateur photography competitions online. After a short training period, the twelve homeless individuals selected spent 4 weeks capturing Parisian life from their perspectives. Accompanied if they wished by students from Paris’ art schools, the photographers set out to depict their daily lives and to provide an insight into a side of Paris that most people never experience. The exhibition aims to raise public awareness of homelessness, and to demonstrate photography's potential as a means of reinsertion and rehabilitation. A selection of the photos taken are on display outside the City Hall until March 19th, and will also be available for purchase online on Deuxième Marche’s website. The profits from these sales will be shared equally between the association and the photographer concerned. The hundreds of photographs submitted depict scenes of solitude, insecurity, exclusion, and public indifference, as well as moments of beauty. —Mairie de Paris, February 20, 2015

In the tradition of our patron saint, Baudelaire, we are exhorted
to find harmony in mud, trash and indifference; given cameras
and point-and-click lessons; sent in search of photo ops.

We have no hesitation in rising to the challenge – we, the
flowers of poverty and displacement, society’s poisonous vapors,
perambulating poets that trail nasty refrains after us wherever we go.

Our longing for beauty, actually, is more poignant than yours.
We have learned to conjure it from sewers, air vents, public
toilets and fountains, billboards, and tunnels that only
sometimes have light at the end of them.

We are the visionaries -- not you soft, you sheltered ones.  It’s easy
to embrace loveliness when it wraps a silken shawl about your
shoulders, when it looks like your kin and feels like your birthright.

It’s supremely possible to celebrate ugliness when it’s a choice, not
an obligation, not a brooding and inescapable horizon.

Do you doubt us?

How do you think we’ve survived thus far on nothing
but fumes and cold pavement?  We are not metaphors,
we are the living dead, and we have learned over and
over again how to inject beauty into our thinning veins,
decomposing clothing, the cracked and bleeding
soles of our feet.

We have been artists all our lives.

Catherine Wald's books include poetry (Distant, burned-out stars, Finishing Line Press, 2011), nonfiction (The Resilient Writer: Stories of Rejection and Triumph From 23 Top Authors, Persea Books, 2005) and a translation from French of Valery Larbaud’s Childish Things (Sun & Moon Press). Her poems have been published in American Journal of Nursing, Buddhist Poetry Review, Chronogram, Exit 13, Friends Journal, Jewish Literary Journal, The New Poet, Society of Classical Poets, The 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly and Westchester Review.