Down and Up in Paris
TEXT BY RACHEL SEGAL HAMILTON
Night falls in the city of lights and a velvetine darkness cascades across the streets. Shop shutters are down, markets packed away, vans parked up. A lone figure prowls, black hoodie up so at times they seem almost a silhouette. The framing is close enough to make us feel complicit, while maintaining a degree of mystery. We can’t help but play detective – who is this?
Marc Vallée shot this series on one night in 2018 but it recalls something from eight decades earlier: Brassaï’s Paris After Dark (1932). The Hungarian photographer presented a parallel Paris of lovers and clubbers, sex workers, night shifters, rough sleepers. His influence is here, not only in the subject matter but in the chiaroscuro style; available light from street lamps makes pavements shimmer or illuminates the sudden flash of spray paint.
Brassaï also, famously, documented graffiti. But while his gaze was on the walls, Vallée is more interested in the act itself. Through his eyes we follow this anonymous anti-hero as they crouch, tiptoe, scale buildings, with feline agility. Those streets that at first seemed silent become louder the more we look. Official signage – “défense de déposer des ordures!” – barks over the siren call of tattered posters, while the name of the writer, our writer, whispers to countless others in a public performance of a secret conversation. And we tag along behind, like shadows.