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Twenty Years Ago

Rodney King First Trial


ON PAYE CONTENT: c'est le titre de cette photographie, dû au signe dans la vitrine "Ni chèque ni crédit," en d'autres termes "On paye comptant," dont j'ai modifié l'orthographe afin de jouer avec l'humeur des protagonistes.

J'ai pris cette photo il y a 20 ans, en 1992, le jour (ou peu après) le premier verdict du procès qui vit l'acquittement des policiers impliqués, résultant en un soulèvement populaire à Los Angeles, dont le centre fut mis à feu et à sang suite au caractère révoltant de l'acquittement en question.

Je visitais ma future épouse à Chapel Hill, et mon niveau en l'anglais à l'époque, ne me permettais pas de comprendre la radio ou la télévision. Voyageant de surcroît, je n'étais pas au courant des derniers évènements. C'est ainsi que je retournai chez ce coiffeur de Raleigh, chez lequel j'avais remarqué la veille une lumière saisissante vers 17:00. Le propriétaire me permis de prendre des photos, et c'est ainsi que celle-ci fut prise. Ce n'est que plus tard, parlant de mon expérience à Trisha, qu'elle mentionna les évènements de Los Angeles, sans doute à l'origine de la tension palpable dans cette photographie.

J'en fis rapidement un tirage pour mon portfolio, mais ce n'est qu'en 2006, pour mon exposition "Life on Mars" que j'en fis un tirage d'exposition en 50 x 60. Ce tirage est très difficile dû à la différence de lumination dans le sujet. Avec le masque approprié, une infinité d'expositions, une harmonisation au ferrycyanure, je suis parvenu à faire quelques tirages qui maintiennent un excellent contraste, très dynamique, tout en préservant les détails requis dans les ombres et hautes lumières, tout cela dans un ton très chaud, ce qui est toujours difficile lorsque l'on souhaite un contraste tonique.

J'ai un tirage parfait tiré sur Forte PolyWarmtone Fibre, un papier qui n'existe plus. C'est là un tirage exceptionnel aux qualités historiques peu courantes pour le collectionneur visionnaire. J'ai aussi une poignée de tirages excellents mais avec de petits défauts qui ne les rendent sans doutes pas rédhibitoires.
Voir liste et prix.


I took this photograph twenty years ago, a Friday of 1992, at 5:00 p.m. eastern time, in Raleigh, Wilmington Street, the day (or soon after) of the first Rodney King beating trial, the one in which the felon policemen were acquitted. Riots of earth quake magnitude ensued in L.A., which seems healthy.

At the time I was visiting my love, who was then living in Chapel Hill. I had already started to like photographing America, as I was surprised by its funk and grit, while our European imagination assumes something more in line with Star Wars. Trisha worked two jobs, so in the evening I was often alone while she was waiting tables. I would then take her car and venture outside of the usual circle. That is how I ended up at that barbershop. The day before I had noticed the light there, around 5:00, flowing that 50’s decorum so Americana-like, but I was on the late side. I therefore arrived earlier the following day.

The town was quiet, in those days Raleigh was somewhat sleepy anyway, but it did seem unusually calm, a little bit like the countryside before the storm, when the birds seem to bicker louder. In those days I could not understand the radio or TV in English, and was enjoying a news-free time outside of my own sphere. I had therefore no idea of what was going on, and stepped into the barbershop quite innocently. I asked the owner if I could take some photographs, he did not hesitate, and I proceeded with setting up my tripod. My subject was naturally going to be the chair by the front window, due to the light and that sign “No Checks, No Credit” which is at the origin of this photograph’s title.

I wondered why the fellows in this photograph were so stern looking, but was not complaining as that added more depth than otherwise. I used a little flash to tame the light some, and before long I was on my way, thanking everybody, probably leaving the fellows in the shop laughing and deriding that clueless Frenchman.

Back to France, I quickly made an 8x10 print for my portfolio, but only printed this exhibition size (21" tall) in 2006 for my show “Life on Mars, part I” at Through This Lens gallery in Durham. This was a very challenging print to make, notably due to the range of light, at the extreme, between the shadows and light blast on the white sleeve of the client’s shirt. With the appropriate mask, a litany of light passes and other techniques, I was able to produce a very dynamic print that still exhibits all the necessary details, on a very warm tone print.

I only have one perfect print of this photograph. Printed on Forte Poly Warmtone Fiber, a paper that does not exist anymore. That is a very rare historic print, available for the visionary collector. I also have a handful of very good prints with slight defects that may not be deterrent.

The title "On Paye Content" is a pun, paying with the same phonetic between "comptant" in French, which would apply to the fact of paying right now, referring to the sign "No Check, No Credit," while "Content" means happy. which the two fellows in the photograph do not seem to be.

See prints list at the Church of Photography.
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