Reportage

Life After Death: Report from the Streets of Paris

Photographer and journalist Irina Popova went to the Paris Photo exhibition and found herself in the middle of a tragedy. For Bird in Flight, she captured how Paris changed the day after the terror attacks.

Paris was all bright with lights and inviting. Tourists with their selfie sticks were taking pictures with attractions in the background, vendors were spreading out their carpets and blankets with Eiffel tower miniatures, and at the Paris Photo exhibition they were hosting the cream of the professional community.

And then something went wrong. We heard noise and sirens. Ambulances and police cars were rushing from all directions. Soon the news came in. First about the shootings in the street, then about the attackers who took over the night club. New information about more and more shooters and victims kept pouring in.

This was Friday the 13th. Paris froze. Paris was shocked, but not panicking. Paris has seen more than that.

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The next night on the Place de la République and by the Saint Louis hospital there is a sad, silent, unending crowd of people. They light candles and the round pedestal of the Republique Statue is covered with flowers. Slogans: “Your war — our dead”, “We are not afraid anyway”, “Vive la France!”.

The tragedy now has a logo, replicating fresh graffiti on the Place de la République — it is the Eiffel Tower, circled and turned into a hippie symbol of peace.

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There are not many people by the Eiffel Tower. The famous carousel (when the horse jumps up, you can see Sienna), is almost empty. Someone is faking a smile for a standard selfie. There is military guard under the Tower, they don’t like taking pictures. It feels like they will open fire if you take one more picture, just to ease the general tension.

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A Muslim quarter in the North-West. The vegetable market is closed, but shops with religious books and clothes are open. An Algerian grandma, with small wet spots under her eyes, as if they were painted with some kind of oil. In her bag with a rose print — a book about the devil, which she just bought.

“He is everywhere, and he is very cunning, he can easily confuse people, — she laments. — This tragedy is awful… I love Paris, and I think I am Parisian.”

An ancient mosque. It has no minarets, as if it is broken. All visitors of the Islamic cafe are gone, as if the wind blew them away — there are only Iranian guests smoking shisha. They are talking about global terrorism as an inexhaustible evil. There is a woman with them with her hair uncovered who is smoking, too.

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In the morning, the metro stations near the locations of the attacks are closed. There are minibuses with satellite dishes around. People in them turn tragedies into news for a living.

There is a stream of blood on the ground, which is running down to the sewer grating. Medical gloves are scattered around, some of them are also blood-stained. In the area fenced off by the police, someone’s boots and a watch lie on the ground. For some reason, the watch makes the greater impression.

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There is a state of emergency in the country, and all cultural establishments are closed. People are trying to squeeze their heads through the fence of the Louvre, to see at least the glass pyramid in the yard. A strict guard shakes his finger: it is not allowed. They’ve been saving for this trip for a year, traveled half the world — these people are just more hostages to this terrible situation.

The Paris Photo exhibition, which was opened with fanfare, and Offprint book fair were closed. It seems like it is not a good time, and talking about art is inappropriate. The exhibitors lose many thousands of euros, spent on the trip, transport, and booth rental. Everyone is silent and absent-minded, nobody discussed the tragedy openly, and, well, what is there to say.

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