“Cartographies” by Peter Coles

A second urban photography workshop in Paris

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Stencil of a bench in the La Chapelle-Pajo quarter of Paris. It has come to symbolise the sometimes brutal treatment of migrants by authorities. The bench & surrounding area had become a popular meeting place, so was removed. Photo : Peter Coles. 

In May 2017 the University of London in Paris (ULIP) hosted a second joint annual urban studies workshop, organised by Peter Coles and Paul Halliday (Goldsmiths and UPA), Anna-Louise Milne, Director of Graduate Studies (ULIP), Carolina Sanchez Boe (University of Aalborg and Sorbonne) and Anne Zeitz (University of Rennes and UPA).

We followed roughly the same plan as the very successful first workshop organised at ULIP at the same time last year, with a Friday seminar and informal evening social event, followed by a guided walk on the Saturday and optional self-guided walks on Sunday.

On the Friday evening, less than 48 hours before the first round of France’s critical presidential elections, over 50 graduate students, staff and urban photographers from London and Paris packed the ULIP lecture room to hear talks by myself, Paul, Anna-Louise, Carolina and Anne. In my presentation, An Archaeology of Urban Landscape. I talked about my Morus Londinium project, funded by the UK Heritage Lottery Fund and hosted by the Conservation Foundation. The project uses old mulberry trees as “surface anomalies”, pointing to a buried and often obscure past, subsequently revealed through historical archives and maps. I also presented some of my Paris Traces photographic work, as a possible methodology for the guided walk scheduled for Saturday morning.

Paul Halliday gave a presentation of UPA and his own recent work. With photographer colleague Melissa, Anna-Louise talked about the 18th arrondissement in Paris, where she lives and where she has long been actively engaged in the plight of refugees and migrants and their tense and often victimised relations with the authorities (see two articles by Anna-Louis Milne (in French): The Conversation 24 May, 2017-06-16 and Politis 25 May 2017). Carolina and Anne rounded off the talks with a presentation of their seminal project, Cartographies of Fear, which was to be the inspiration for the guided walk on Saturday – and a blog piece on the weekend by UPA photographer, Allan Grainger.

Despite the constant drizzle on Saturday morning, Anna-Louise led a group of 25 MA Sociology students from the Sorbonne, together with PUC MAs and UPA photographers around the 18th arrondissement, starting at a new community garden and facilities on Esplanade Nathalie Sarraute.

Anna-Louise pointed out some of the sites of recent conflict and institutionalised brutality against refugees and migrants, including a stencil on the pavement in the La Chapelle-Pajol quarter, marking the site of a 19th century park bench removed by the authorities. The bench had become the focus for meetings of migrants and the distribution of bottled water and supplies by volunteers – hence its removal as an attempt to discourage and disperse the migrants. Paul immediately made the connection with the infamous removal of the Deptford Anchor, which similarly came to symbolise a municipal clean-up that pitted authorities against local residents in South London in 2015. A new term, “de-benching”, was coined.

Towards the end of our walk we lingered by the remaining informal refugee settlement at Porte de la Chapelle, next to a more official, but still sadly inadequate, reception centre, called “La Bulle” (The Bubble). A few of the group crossed over the tramlines to speak to some of the migrants, sitting around their roadside bivouac tents, some waiting for traffickers to take them to Calais.

Several hours after we’d started out, we made our way for discussions and pizza at the astonishingly brilliant 104 (Centquatre) community cultural centre, where we’d also met up last year. Despite Saturday’s poor weather and the anticipation surrounding the presidential elections, it was clear that these popular workshops have now consolidated our cross-channel network. We are already planning a 2018 event.

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The 104 Centre with graffiti against right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Photo : Carolina Sanchez Boe.

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For a personal account of the walk and workshop, read Carolina Sanchez Boe and Henry Mainsah’s thought-provoking article Traces and Places: Making Borders Visible in Paris’ 18th Arrondissement in the University of Oxford’s Border Criminologies blog.

Peter Coles is Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Urban and Community Research and Research Director, Urban Photographers Association.

 

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