Interview with Just Kids exhibition photographer François Perri
What is the story behind the title Sale Gosse!
While I was sailing around the world following in the tracks of Magellan (www.stenope.net) and carrying out pinhole camera workshops along the way, we stopped at the island of Rapa in French Polynesia’s far South. The children are happy there, as free as air, but very naughty: they never turned up on time for their classes, some would leave the lab without warning, others would wake us up at 5 am to find out what time the workshop would start, the camera boxes were dented, badly kept, we would find nails, string, chewing-gum inside. On the little wharf on the day of our departure, they came to give us photos, letters which made us blush. Tamata hung numerous necklaces on me, and whispered into my ear: “What little brats! (‘little brat’ translates roughly as ‘sale gosse’) Please excuse us, but come back…”
Can you explain your interest in photographing street children?
As a photographer, I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world as a privileged witness. I wanted to show the problems, often extremely different problems, rural and city street children face. Also to make people see the daily lives of hundreds of millions of street children around the world often caught in the vicious spiral of: drugs, delinquency, violence, prostitution. In many countries, children are not treated as kings but as the dregs of their society, and yet they are the future of the planet. If there is any glimmer of hope it is on the children’s side that we must look. This is why I want to bear witness and help children to with the camera workshops, so that they can make their own judgements.
Do you ever feel any uneasiness about photographing people in distress?
Of course. Sometimes I have felt uneasiness, shame or even the absurdity of taking certain photos. (I can also confess that at times I have not even taken a photo) but isn’t it also my duty to show certain things? I think we must show these things in order to progress. I would like the notion of ‘childhood’ to exist for all children. It reminds me of Zakaria, the child who lived and worked in a shed scorched by the sun, surrounded by rubbish, flies and rats in the City of the Dead in Cairo. I did not want to take a photo. He came running after me and pulled on my shirt saying angrily: “Why won’t you take photos of me, I’m a worker!”
Do you take photographs to bring about change? Can photographs really make a difference? What drives you to continue your work?
They say that the war in Vietnam ended in the most part thanks to the images that came out… Yes I still believe in what I do, although fewer and fewer people seem to be concerned and the media prefer to cover ‘people’ rather than the problems of children worldwide. I don’t believe we should give up in the face of the egotism wrecking today’s world. All ‘weapons’ are good in the fight against evil and mine are photos. I have been taking photos for over thirty years and despite the difficulties (it has become more and more difficult to obtain contracts) I don’t lose hope as I believe the image is an essential medium. Sometimes they bring very good returns. Once I took a photo of Alexandre playing with toys he had made with his brothers in Burkina Faso. A few years later I went back to the same place and a man gave me a scare when he jumped at me and wrapped his arms around me. I hadn’t recognised him at first but it was Alexandre all grown up. The reportage on his life story had been published in “Jeune Afrique” (African journal), this had brought him many clients and he was able to open a shop.
What subjects/countries/peoples are left that you want to photograph?
There are more than 190 countries in the world, I have visited about half, but I am not engaged in a race to visit as many as possible. I prefer going back often to the same country, to better understand the culture, the people…
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