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This is where I do my best to regularly write about my work, that of photographers I appreciate and broach the vast subject of photography.

Gökşin Sipahioğlu

Fin décembre 1973 : Gökşin fonde SIPA PRESS.
19 décembre 2003 : Gökşin quitte SIPA PRESS.
En 30 ans Gökşin aura construit la première agence de photojournalisme au monde, révélé le talent des plus grands, accumulé scoops et récompenses…

Friday December 19, 2003: Goksin's last day at Sipa Press, 30 years to the week after founding the agency.

Présent sept jours sur sept, plus de 12 heures par jour à SIPA pendant 30 ans, sa vie c’est son agence, ses photographes. Les vacances ? Une corvée. Jusqu’à ce dernier jour passé à terminer ses cartons, il aura vécu pour son agence. Sa compagne Phyllis, journaliste américaine qui l’accompagne depuis la création de SIPA, quitte l’agence en janvier 2004. Restent à SIPA quelques compagnons du début, des souvenirs, et surtout les photographies témoignagant de l’Histoire du siècle dernier. Gökşin a quitté SIPA. Ce départ scelle la fin d’une ère non seulement pour l’agence mais pour toute une profession. L’histoire ne se termine pas là: le lundi suivant son départ Gökşin s’installe dans un bureau au 102 Avenue des Champs Elysées, l’adresse du 16 mètres carrés de SIPA en 1973.

 

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Cute Kittens

A picture of cute kittens, the standard issued decorative element found in most health facilities reception areas.

20110614-021919.jpg

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The Cannes Film Festival Star Gazing Challenge

The complete “Cannes Film Festival Star Gazing Challenge” photo series can be viewed here on my PhotoShelter archive.

As movie stars arrive at the foot of the Cannes Film Festival red carpeted Stairs for a short stroll through the photographer’s flashes, a crowd of ordinary people gathers hoping to catch a glance at someone famous.

Day one of the 64th Cannes Film Festival. A large crowd of tourists watch the arrival of the stars during the evening's red carpet opening ceremony..Cannes, FRANCE - 11/05/2011 (William Alix)

Alas, the red carpet is hidden behind rows of accredited photographers. The only visible stars are on the giant screen overlooking the Stairs. Hundreds of cell phones and compact cameras are pointed to it awaiting the appearance of that favorite actor.

As movie stars arrive at the foot of the Cannes Film Festival red carpeted stairs for a short stroll through the photographer's flashes, a crowd of ordinary people gathers on the opposit sidewalk hoping to catch a glance at someone famous. Alas, the only visible stars are on the giant screen. .Cannes, FRANCE 14/05/2011 (William Alix)

On the sidewalk opposite the Stairs is a special group of dedicated fans. They arrive three days before the launch of the festival to secure their seats and step ladders in front of the red carpet, a prime spot to photograph the stars as they arrive. Most of them are assiduous amateurs who return every year to enrich their photo collection.

As movie stars arrive at the foot of the Cannes Film Festival red carpeted stairs for a short stroll through the photographer's flashes, a crowd of ordinary people gathers on the opposit sidewalk hoping to catch a glance at someone famous. Alas, the only visible stars are on the giant screen. .Cannes, FRANCE 16/05/2011 (William Alix)

This is a made-for-TV giant photocall, not a news event. Photographers and cameramen are required to sport a black tuxedo and assigned a numbered position according to their importance. The intended high-class of the show is ruined by loud pop music and speaker commentaries, much like a spring-break beach party.

All is bright and beautiful in front of the camera, it’s the magic of cinema. As with all magic the tricks are only visible behind the scene. Press photographers and editors do their post-production work in offices in the Palais des Festivals basement, beneath the red carpet. No large comfortable press room here. Press agencies spend a fortune to rent high-speed internet access and a windowless wooden prefab office, as small as 9m2. The picture editors spend 12-15 hours daily in this space for the festival’s duration.

The Sipa office in Cannes..Required to wear a tuxedo to cover the movie stars' climbing of the Cannes Film Festival red carpeted stairs, press photographers and editors do their post-production work in offices in the Palais des festivals basement. These are windowless wooden prefabs, can be as small as 9m2 and rented a fortune to agencies..Cannes, FRANCE - 21/05/2011 (William Alix)

Some people are in Cannes during the festival to actually try to see selected movies. Anonymous cinephiles stand at the entrance of the Palais des Festivals brandishing placards asking professionals coming in and out for spare invitations for the next film presentation. They are dressed-up to be allowed in should they be lucky enough to get one.

A common sight in front of the Palais des Festivals, people asking for invitations to attend a film screening..As movie stars arrive at the foot of the Cannes Film Festival red carpeted stairs for a short stroll through the photographer's flashes, a crowd of ordinary people gathers on the opposit sidewalk hoping to catch a glance at someone famous. Alas, the only visible stars are on the giant screen. .Cannes, FRANCE 16/05/2011 (William Alix)

The bottom-line is, if you’re in Cannes during the Festival, the only sure way to see movie stars is to walk around the bus stops near city hall:

As movie stars arrive at the foot of the Cannes Film Festival red carpeted stairs for a short stroll through the photographer's flashes, a crowd of ordinary people gathers on the opposit sidewalk hoping to catch a glance at someone famous. Alas, the only visible stars are on the giant screen. (William Alix)


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64th Cannes Film Festival, Day One

Day one of the 64th Cannes Film Festival. A resident looks on from his balcony as the town prepares for the evening's red carpet opening ceremony..Cannes, FRANCE - 11/05/2011 (William Alix)

It has begun! Pro photographers shoot features, amateur photographers guard their step ladders -chained to fences in front of the venue three days earlier- and the city’s energy level rises prior to the evening’s opening ceremony. When it finally gets under way, a crowd is there to attempt to catch a glimpse and grab a frame of the movie stars climbing the famous red carpeted steps. Click on the photo to view the gallery.

This year again I am commissioned by ARTE, the franco-german TV channel, to cover their activities during the festival. This means ten days of lunches, cocktails and lounge parties on the yacht rented for the event to greet actors, directors and producers of the 15 films produced by ARTE and presented in the festival.

This should be an enjoyable two weeks but a tougher job than it sounds. Really. First lounge party tomorrow…

 

 

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Portraits taken with iPhone published

Jean, 81 ans, ancien conseiller d'administration a l'education nationale, a pris sa retraite a 60 ans apres 37,5 annees de travail...Portraits de retarites participant a la manifestation contre la reforme des retraites. Beneficiant pour la plupart de pensions de retraite qu'ils estiment

Jean, 81 ans, ancien conseiller d’administration a l’education nationale, a pris sa retraite a 60 ans apres 37,5 annees de travail. Portraits de retraites participant a la manifestation contre la reforme des retraites. Beneficiant pour la plupart de pensions de retraite qu’ils estiment “correcte”, ils s’inquietent tous du sort de leurs enfants et petits enfants. Les manifestations ont mobilise deux millions de personnes a travers la France. Paris, FRANCE – 07/09/2010

In September 2010 I set out to cover the large demonstration against the French government’s planned retirement reform by shooting portraits of the retirees participating to support the movement. The angle for this series was to compare these retirees’ work history and retirement pension to that of younger generations still at work -and demonstrating.

I planned on using the same studio set up used to shoot the two large demonstrations against Nicolas Sarkozy’s politics which brought huge crowds from the private and public sector together -a rarity in France where people usually demonstrate to attract attention to their own specific issues. This meant two lighboxes and a black cloth backdrop installed on the side of the demonstration’s path, Boulevard Beaumarchais. It also meant having an assistant to watch over the studio and write down the “model’s” testimonial (name, age, profession and in one sentence why they were demonstrating) while I was out casting in the marching crowd. Speed of operation was essential in this shoot: the demonstrators usually marched with a group they didn’t want to loose in the crowd. So every portrait and interview had to be made in less than a couple minutes, five at the most.

Alas my small pool of potential assistants was unavailable for the retirement demonstration. I had just treated myself to the iPhone 4 and was amazed at how good the pictures it produced were. I especially enjoyed playing around with the very popular Hipstamatic application. So I decided to shoot my retirees with my phone.

Along the path of the demonstration I found a neutral backdrop -the metallic curtain of a closed shop on Boulevard Beaumarchais- and had my models pose in front of it. In those ancient days (this was six months ago, an eternity in geekland) the Hipstamatic application was very slow at processing each picture taken. I had to wait 30 seconds to see the result -now you can take up to nine photos while the app processes in the background. That meant I only had time to shoot one picture per retiree, do the quick interview and release him or her. All pictures turned out ok, some better than others but all were usable.

It felt strange to work with a telephone but none of my subjects noticed or said anything about it.

I sent the pictures to my agency, Sipa Press, and they were picked-up by the national magazine Le Nouvel Observateur to illustrate a story on Sarkozy’s retirement reform plan.

Publication Nouvel Observateur n°2394 du 23 au 29 septembre 2010, dossier sur les retraites. (William Alix/williamalix.com)

Publication Nouvel Observateur n°2394 du 23 au 29 septembre 2010, dossier sur les retraites.

The reform was passed later in the year.

 

 

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Shop till you drop

A homeless’ shopping cart chained to a tree, Place de l’Île de la Réunion in Paris.

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William Betsch 1945-2010

Yesterday we bid our friend William Betsch a last farewell at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

William died Monday July 26th, 2010.

Nonetheless he will remain by my side, pinching me when I think to myself “well, that’ll be good enough”, nudging me to focus on details and see the signs. He will remain by my side when I’m smoking, drinking Bushmills, eating a four-pound grilled beef rib. And he will be there, smiling, each time the inevitable ass representing authority crosses my path… Good-bye William, see you around.

Photographer William Betsch pictured during his exploration of the abandonned Bobigny train station, the early stage of his work on his latest book "Drancy, ou le travail de l'oubli" published in April 2010 by Thames and Hudson.  Bobigny, 2001.  (William Alix/williamalix.com)
Photographer William Betsch pictured during his exploration of the abandonned Bobigny train station, the early stage of his work on his latest book “Drancy, ou le travail de l’oubli” published in April 2010 by Thames and Hudson.
Bobigny, 2001. (William Alix/williamalix.com)
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Three letters were read during the funeral. Here are the words of Carole Naggar, who wrote the text for “Le bain: cité du sang”, publisher Pierre Fanlac (1988).
Early in 1980, a handsome and strange young man with a rabbi or priest’s eyeglasses, landed in Paris like an UFO, a portfolio under his arm.
American, he was coming from London where he had studied art and photography with Bill Brandt and with abstract painter Peter de Francia.
We met at Editions Contrejour. On his photographs of the Hammam Moulay Idriss in Fez, ghostly white bodies, like sensuous and poisonous flowers, arched in the steam.
William Betsch did not like to be called Bill. He lived at the time in a bedsit on Collingham Road, leading an excentric, poor and rather isolated life : cheap Indian takeout, thin slices of soap, pennies in radiators for damp winters.
Soon we were piling up the contents of his room (photographs, mainly) in my Volkswagen and William started on what would be 30 years in Paris.

He lived by night. He had brought back from Morocco a fondness for haschich and beautiful color photographs of Fez’s medieval labyrinths where abject poverty is clothed in the beauty of zelliges mosaics, fountains, ancient mosques and palaces. A Kodak Price for 1st book allowed William to go back to Fez, first working with writer Nadia Tazi, then with myself when I joined him.

Two books came out of a long and complex adventure that lasted several years : Le Bain ( Fanlac publishers), a meditation on bodies and mortality, combined photographs from abattoirs with those of the hammam. The book would also become the base for a short film De Doute et de Grâce, with Delphine Seyrig reading the texts.

His second book The Hakima : a Tragedy in Fez(Aperture) was published thanks to Mark Holborn with a preface by Paul Bowles .The book tells the tale of a young Fassi woman who jumped from a roof because she had lost her viriginity and was to be married off. It is a palimpsest of interviews, quotes, diaries and photographs which attempt to recreate the chaos, repression, humor and beauty of a town an its inhabitants.

Then we chose different paths. William explored the theme of burnt books, inspired by the famous phrase of German poet Heine : « They burn books ; they will also, in the end, burn people. »

Thus the themes of Nazism, the camps, Judaism, made an oblique entry into his work. Using again the multi-layered structure of The Hakima, his book Drancy ou le travail d’oubli (march 2010) was published in Paris and London ( Thames & Hudson). The book questions memory and the repressed ; with texts and photographs taken in 1999, William ponders the pencil and chalk graffiti, in French and Hebrew, that the condemned prisoners have left on the walls of the too-well named Cité de la Muette. He quotes the survivors of this sinister transit camp and takes snapshots of the life of the Cité’s contemporary dwelllers.

Like Brandt, Brassai or Joel-Peter Witkin, William Betsch was a photographer of the night, night of the bodies and of the souls; he attempted to communicate the invisible: stutters of memory, stutters of the repressed, like the charred and fragile pages of burnt books…

But we shall also remember his great, childish laugh, his enthusiasms, his endless letters on onionskin paper, his delirious orchestrations of the souk Sebbaghine’s dyers, jumping above colored wells.

He was seen questioning a Moroccan mountain witch about his future, circulating in Paris suburbs, examining the Sybils’ mosaics in Sienna’s Cathedral, the mists of dawn at Mont Saint-Michel, sheep and beef carcasses in the abattoirs, war’s ruins in Sarajevo.

He leaves important work, with multiple secrets that remain to be deciphered.

May his work’s rays touch the future, as the light of certain dead stars.

Carole Naggar

New York, 7 août 2010.

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Peter de Francia, William’s Professor at the Royal College of Art in London:

My recollections of first meeting Bill Betsch (as he then liked to be called) are extremely dim, but I do remember that the distinguished American art historian Dore Ashton spoke to me about a student of hers who was thinking of applying to the Royal College, where I was Professor of Painting. He came and we spoke. It is important to stress that Betsch was not a painter in the strict sense of the word: at that time he was, as I remember, doing constructions involving a board perforated with small holes into which pegs were inserted. He impressed me with his lucid humour and lively intelligence. So I took him into the School, where he thrived. He made an important contribution to the diversification of the School which I sought.

That the time he spent at the College was so successful was largely due to the enthusiasm which he invested in his projects, notably in the pioneering work he did in the systematic cataloguing of the scores of drinking fountains, many of them very small but richly decorated, in the city of Fez in Morocco.

The imagination and quality of his published work since amply justifies our faith in him.

Peter de Francia

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And here is a text by his friend Nicholas Kamm, AFP photographer in Washington, DC.

William et moi avons été tres proches pendant de nombreuses années, puis nous nous sommes brouillés pour des sottises. Mais je l’ai toujours considéré comme mon ami, malgré tout, meme si nous ne nous parlions plus.

Sa mort m’a profondemment ému et m’a rappelé tous les moments que nous avions passés ensemble: les heures interminables au desk, les heures que j’ai passé a developer ses films de Croatie et de Bosnie bien des années après qu’il les avait shooté car il n’avait pas l’argent pour le faire, ainsi que quelques rouleaux de son travail remarquable sur Drancy, les batailles syndicales a l”AFP, la journée que nous avions passé a Drancy, les pots au Vaudeville, le nouvel an qu’il etait venu passer chez nous a Chartres, les heures que nous passions au téléphone quand j’étais a Nicosie.

Tous ces moments étaient des moments d’éducation. On apprenait toujours quelque chose avec William. Si ce n‘etait pas un fait, un concept philosophique ou une vision differente du monde qui nous entoure, c’était sur la psychologie tres complexe de William lui-même. Rien n’etait simple avec lui et c’est ça qui le rendait a la fois tellement attachant, pour ceux et celles a qui il avait accordé son amitié, et si rebutant pour les autres. J’ai eu la chance de compter parmi ses amis et jamais n’y a-t-il eu d’ami plus loyal.

Je suis heureux qu’il ai pu publier son travail sur Drancy avant de nous quitter. Cet ouvrage est un testament de l’obstination et des principes que William a toujours eu et a défendu toute sa vie. Je suis fier d’y avoir participé d’une certaine façon.

Bizarement, il y a quelques semaines, j’ai essayé de le joindre au téléphone parce qu’il me manquait, ignorant tout de sa maladie. Mais je n’ai pas réussi a l’avoir. Je suis triste de ne pas avoir pu lui parler une dernière fois pour qu’il sache qu’il était toujours mon ami.

Nicholas Kamm

Washington, Août 2010.

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Contrasted week-end

Had an interesting couple of days last week-end.

Saturday I visited the Christian Boltanski show at the Grand Palais. Took a few photos showing the impressive set-up, but you absolutely have to go to actually feel it. Some fun too, with “nurses” recording visitors’ heart beats, regularly emerging from their recording booths into the white neon-lit waiting room to call on the next number.

 

 

 

Then on Sunday I covered the large anti-abortion demonstration, an interesting panel of French -and European- traditionalists:

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Mon 2009 en images

C’est dans tous les journaux: nous venons de passer en 2010. L’occasion pour tous de jeter un coup d’oeil dans le rétro, de faire le bilan de l’année écoulée, de se souvenir des meilleurs moments comme des pires… vous connaissez l’usage. Je vous propose donc ici ma rétro en marronnier massif.

J’en profite pour remercier celles et ceux qui me font confiance: Nathalie Luyer, de Vis à Vis, Nathalie Claveau, Brigitte Collet et Luc Reyrolle, du Pèlerin, Sylvie Dannay, de La Croix,  Gaëlle Gauducheau, mon amie Ingrid Wimart, The Brand Union, mon ami Jean-Philippe Baltel, Geneviève Duigou d’Arte France, et enfin les super forçats des agences Sipa et CIRIC.

En 2010 rejoignez ces gens formidables en me permettant de continuer d’aller voir de ci de là comment se passent les choses autour de nous. Passez le mot, devenez fan et offrez vous un tirage!

Une belle année à toutes et tous!

Visionnez le diaporama en plein écran pour un meilleur rendu (icône en bas à droite de la fenêtre).

It’s in the news everywhere: we’ve made it to 2010. An occasion to take a look in the rear-view mirror, assess the past year, remember the best moments and the worse… you know the drill. So here is my 2009 retrospective in pictures.

I take this opportunity to thank all those who trust me: Nathalie Luyer, of Vis à Vis, Nathalie Claveau, Brigitte Collet and Luc Reyrolle, from Le Pèlerin, Sylvie Dannay, from La Croix,  Gaëlle Gauducheau, my friend Ingrid Wimart, from The Brand Union, my friend Jean-Philippe Baltel, Geneviève Duigou of Arte France, and finally the hard-working people at Sipa and CIRIC.

In 2010 join these great people in allowing me to document what goes on around us. Spread the word, become a fan and treat yourself to a print!

A great year to all!

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On s’en foot…

Oui c’est facile, mais vu l’importance du sujet dans l’Absolu… En 2006 l’équipe de France accède en finale de la coupe du monde. La joie des supporters sur les Champs Elysées dégénère normalement en fin de Soirée.

Puis vient le jour de la finale. Des supporters vont regarder le match sur écran géant au Parc des Princes, autre grand moment offert par notre sélection nationale:

Que mes amis footeux ne prennent pas ombrage, j’aime bien un bon match de foot de temps en temps. Reste que cela fait longtemps que Notre Equipe de France ne nous a pas fait la démonstration de son talent.

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