Mediatheque de Cambrai
My job is to conduct school visits of the exhibitions we have here at the Mediatheque. Fourth and Fifth grade classes were assigned to write their observations, which I am forwarding you here. [See excepts, below.] I in turn am taking the liberty of sending you some additional observations I remember before it becomes too late. One forgets things so quickly.....
Cambrai: A ten year old boy commented about the " bridge-house". That was the photo he had noticed first, and which interested him the most. It is connected to his past. He knew it well because his grandfather used to live there. But now, he no longer goes there because his grandfather died. He stood up in order to show me where his grandfather's rooms were (on the second floor, the apartment on the right). He also explained to us what they had to do to get in, for the door is hidden on the side, farther down the street... and there are a lot of stair cases and a long corridor. That "bridge-building" is important to him. He likes it a lot. And he is sorry that he can't go there any more.
While looking for traces of the past and the present in the photo, another child noticed that where the road began it was paved (before the grandfather's apartment house) and that at the end (towards and under the building) it consisted of cobble stones. The boy who knew the "bridge-building" well told us that the cars driving underneath, on the cobble stones, made a lot of noise.
With respect to the photo of Saint Sulpice Square (the poster for the exhibit at Cambrai), they observed that the cars were placed in rows like onions, squeezed together in the same way as the various buildings beyond them.
They found some of the photos "funny".
For example, the photo where you see a cafe, with a white car parked in front. That's because it was someone's who went to the bistro to drink a beer! I pointed out that cafes, bars, and bistros are important and make up a heck of a lot of social life, especially in the north of France! On that same photo, they noticed that the bell tower of the neighborhood church was hooked to electric wire.
Concerning the exhibition as a whole, they made the distinction, naturally, between the twisting, sinuous streets that were older, and the straight, rectangular shapes of the modern streets. And that there are many different neighborhoods, something they had never been aware of.
Thessaloniki: One of the two classes had been studying Europe and the different languages and scripts. The children started to look for indications that would help them determine in which countries the photos had been taken. It very quickly became a game (a game of clues and also a game of errors to find out). They realized that it wasn't always easy because there are a lot of English words everywhere. Few of them read the accompanying texts; they were thrilled by all the details (and, therefore, by the enormous quantity of information) that were in the prints.
A girl said that the photos of Thessaloniki were actually of the city of Toulon in France. I too know that city very well, and it is true that some of the pictures could have been from Toulon. She goes there on vacation. It was very similar: the bright sun, the cheap housing, the palm trees, the concrete sea front, the big ships, the Marlboro ads, etc.
They were attracted by the people:
-the man who is shopping, bags in his hands (Cambrai)
-the man looking at us, hidden in his car (Cambrai)
-the two people talking together at the edge of the pedestrian street, and who are looking at their city or at the Grande Place. Perhaps they are thinking. I pointed out then that they are in the same position as the photographer. They are looking at the architecture, the city... This made them infer that you took the picture to show yourself through them, that your work process is represented through them. Another child said than that one of them is old and one young: the past and the present together.
-there's a young man who is walking quickly and drinking. It's hot and he's not following the signs. (Erfurt)
-You don't see any people in Katrineholm. There's only the two Muslim women crossing the road.
-they noticed the man walking alone along the sea front in Thessaloniki.
That's what I remember. Good luck.
Some of the children's responses:
"The black and white show how Mikael Levin is attached to the present-past contrast (for me, black and white, what a contrast! What opposites! But, looking more closely, everything isn't black, everything isn't white, some gray stands out and links these two contrasts and creates a connection between them)."
Jeremy Debussy, [9 years old]
"I really liked the city of Thessaloniki, which is very different from the others because there are big apartment buildings and I'm not used to seeing that. But in the middle of all those buildings a solitary person is walking, rapidly, it seems. How curious! This city doesn't seem to have kept any trace of its past. Oh, but wait! I can see a vestige of olden times, there, way at the end of that street lined with big buildings!"
"In Sweden, you can see that there are women who are surely Arab, so the city is diverse."
Christopher Dumortier [Fourth grade]
"Then Katrineholm in Sweden. [...] you could see two people (who definitely came from Africa), who were walking in the middle of the road (like in he desert), it's weird!"
Yoann Van Moorleghem, [10 1/2 years old]
"In Cambrai, in front of the Notre Dame Gate, what got me was seeing that in order to go into the city, the cars no longer drive under the gate, but go around it, as the big arrows drawn on the ground show us. So, why do they still call it Notre Dame Gate?"
Pierre-Marie Lemaire, [9 1/2 years old]
I stopped at the city of Erfurt and especially at the photo where you see graffiti on the ground and the walls. I think the young people are expressing themselves on the walls, because it's the only way they can say what they think."
Perrine Carpentier [Fourth grade]
Béatrice Duprez is a graphic designer. She is currently working at Cambrai's Mediateque organizing school tours and special events.
(Translation by Susan Cohen)