Impressed by the capital on my arrival, I made the 13th Arrondissement my first stop, far away from posh Haussmannian buildings and the museum-like banks of the Seine. Paris-13 vibrates, crisscrossed by tall postwar buildings, their large mineral blocks forming a geometric, jagged horizon.
I find it somewhat reassuring to get to know Paris from a district with such an unusual aesthetic. It possesses an architectural simplicity that feels more homey, more accessible. Its popular forms, encountered in the outskirts of the cities I know, in neighborhoods rebuilt fifty years ago, are often decried and rarely praised. The buildings are only bigger here and the high-rises taller. This is a modern city within a city.
Everyone’s trajectories intersect around these gigantic gray sculptures, which are both points of attraction and backdrop, always bringing at least one vertical line to all the horizontal ones. The light sharpens the contours, projecting the buildings’ volume onto the ground and tracing immense rectangles of shadow and light.
I walk around in the evening between these anonymous high-rises, and the feeling of being a total stranger in the city I don’t know is almost comforting. No one is looking at me, and there is no acquaintance to bump into, just a huge playground to explore. This environment seems strangely to reflect my present state of mind. Having just graduated, I am going through a curious moment in my life, the end of one cycle and the beginning of another, the passage from theory to practice that, for me, has nothing spontaneous about it.
Almost two years later, I have tried to recapture this atmosphere and freeze it on film. Rather than aiming for a documentary truth, I wanted, during a Sunday outing, to transcribe this moment of personal transition and discovery associated with this neighborhood.
Everything appears to be fluid. The residents of the 13th Arrondissement seem to be in the right place at the right time, enjoying the first real rays of summer sun. I’ve barely arrived at Olympiades [metro station], when a woman accosted me and asked me to take a picture of her and her friends; an hour later a young man called out while I was preparing my next shot: “Hey, good thing I wore my Lacoste jacket today!”
Some scenes and people come into view at the foot of these towers, outlined by the sun, forming tableaus in this bare, mineral urban landscape. There are also some moments of lassitude, straddling solitary spleen and plenitude. The ultra-urban takes shape on this summer Sunday. The bitter concrete lets the protagonists move around on a map without scale, in this great open-air work-in-progress resembling a high-density industrial zone.
The series emerges all by itself, simple, easy, fluid, like a small capsule containing the mood of the moment: it is “Paris Treize.”
By Paul Rousselet
Paul is a photographer and architect based in Paris, France.