“The sea has become poison,” we read in Littoral Marseille. It is impossible to bathe in it without feeling, on one’s own skin, the pollution that burns or itches, and kills you bit by bit. Thus we learn that to practice swimming regularly in Marseille, you should best get recruited by an exclusive, private club that houses the only Olympic swimming pool in the city. Or else you stick to the municipal swimming pools. This is a sad little factoid that makes one grieve for the vanishing Marseille coastline.
What is a coastline? It is a living space, a meeting spot, the place where we tame the sea. Fishing, inhabiting, contemplating, swimming, sunbathing, poaching: these, timeless or modern, seaside activities define coastal cities and the customs of their residents. Even in Marseille, which has often been called “a rural city,” turned towards the hills, the sea has long been a fertile garden—that is, until industrialization and, later, resortification came to claim the sea for themselves.
To capture lost or impeded practices, the Marseille anthropologist Michel Peraldi wrote a committed, deeply personal text. A specialist in migratory movements around the Mediterranean basin and in informal, illegal economies, recounts the story of the port of Marseille, its successive metamorphoses, legal trade and smuggling. He paints a picture of customs that have disappeared since the nineteenth century, prey to private exploitation and exclusive maritime interests.
Élise Llinarès accompanies him on this melancholy stroll along the coast. The Parisian photographer and member of the Hans Lucas studio, who had documented the fall of the Berlin wall and Germany’s reunification, has been always interested in “history in the making.” Seen through her lens, landscapes and portraits become historical documents, witnesses to the great upheavals taking place in this Phoenician city, such as rampant privatization and the rise of gated communities that dot the coastline, barring access to the sea.
Founded in 2019, the publishing house d’une rive à l’autre aims to create a dialogue between photography and social sciences, to bring together the art of observation and critical thought. This book is a successful union of the two: the melancholy and emptiness emanating from Élise Llinares’s photographs resonate with the rage that comes across in Michel Peraldi’s text. Their collaboration is at once personal and political, poetic and militant; it makes a case for ecology and raises questions about how we choose to build our cities: inclusive or exclusive, private or public.
By Joy Majdalani
Joy Majdalani is a Lebanese-content editor and creator based in Paris. Her writing focuses on technology, art, culture, and social issues.
Elise Llinares & Michel Peraldi, Littoral Marseille
The book is available here.