Dusk: a Meditation

14 April, 2021

“Port Autonome de Mar­seille” 2008. All pho­tog­ra­phy cour­tesy of Franck Pour­cel.

Franck Pourcel

“The day ris­es, and on me night falls…” Graf­fi­ti on a cen­tral Mar­seille wall, 2003.

There are lights like cities between which twi­light hangs. Or rather “at the same time,” to use the late film crit­ic Serge Daney’s phrase. “At the same time” is a “moment of emo­tion.” Twi­light is that moment when mys­tery at once dis­ap­pears and remains, and where, in the low and uncer­tain light, a pas­sage from one city to anoth­er takes form. Mar­seille. Mar­seille chang­ing. Mar­seille that remains. A frozen city “at the same time” between Europe and the Mediter­ranean. Between ‘moder­ni­ty and tra­di­tion’ say tech­nocrats. Between after and before. Between demo­li­tions and trans­for­ma­tions. Mar­seille at dusk. At dusk? These twi­lights, when the dreams of chil­dren with unsure spelling are extin­guished: “The day ris­es and on me night falls.” Chil­dren of a social body in recom­po­si­tion. Or decom­pos­ing? In this “at the same time” of pho­tog­ra­phy is a kind of ren­dezvous for mem­o­ries of those upon whom the night falls.

Mar­seille grew up; the city mod­ern­ized. The lights are more numer­ous and more vio­lent to those who see them from afar.

In this sub­ur­ban area too far from down­town, the stair­well of Build­ing B is a refuge for young peo­ple who are strug­gling. Here there is noth­ing to do — noth­ing more to do. The lob­by of the build­ing is a place for meet­ing and lis­ten­ing. It’s a neces­si­ty for the res­i­dents. The young peo­ple greet one anoth­er. It’s a human place, where they can exist. From the stair­well, the city is observed from afar and can be imag­ined. The light that returns in the evening is intense and col­or­ful. Thoughts escape. It is a space for vagabond, unaf­ford­able dreams. Fold­ed behind the walls, cling­ing to its desires. We have to find our place. The rest is just amuse­ment, an attempt to flee, to erase real­i­ty. Here, how­ev­er, there is every­thing: Foos­ball, com­put­ers, the big screen… To gain ground, one needs only to climb to the tenth floor.

From this periph­ery, Mar­seille is on exhi­bi­tion. But to moder­ni­ty’s show these young peo­ple always arrive too late, just as the lights go out.

“At the same time…”

The sand­bag is get­ting heav­ier and heav­ier. It weighs on the con­science of every­day life. The box­er is sweat­ing, per­fect­ing, repeat­ing the same move­ments again and again. It is a sal­va­tion that is worth many oth­ers. Don’t let go. To see these efforts reward­ed. In this makeshift room, bod­ies are moist, bod­ies are mus­cled, bod­ies are refined. Every­one respects who wants to sweat. After each punch, the leather of the bag tans. Like the faces of those who did not take care. Or who do not stop despite the pain. To cash in is also to scream with your body.

“At the same time…”

The social cen­ter is the meet­ing place of tol­er­ance in a city that is tol­er­ant when it suits it to be so. The cen­ter pro­vides a kind of school of life, when exclu­sion has dis­tanced the Mar­seilles from each oth­er, has locked them in their homes and in them­selves. Here, as in oth­er com­mu­ni­ty places in the city cen­ter, ini­tia­tives sur­vive on the mar­gins of polit­i­cal will. Expelled from pub­lic squares, sta­tion halls, and the opera square, spon­tane­ity resists. This nar­row place becomes a huge pri­vate school play­ground. Each is his/her own head­mas­ter. Every­one lis­tens to their own voic­es, and charts their paths to the lim­it of their abil­i­ties. Hip-hop is a dance that puts all social cat­e­gories in a trance. Every­one under­stands this capac­i­ty to go beyond social sta­tus to cre­ate the same move­ment. Every­one blends in with oth­ers to cre­ate cohe­sion, sat­is­fac­tion, and well-being.

“At the same time…” 

An amuse­ment park is set up on the J4, in the lot at the far end of the port. There is the Fer­ris wheel and its zenith. But above all there is a spec­tac­u­lar mer­ry-go-round. It is an arm extend­ed from a cap­sule. Back-to-back, four peo­ple come to be har­nessed. As the arm lifts, the legs find the void that grows big­ger and big­ger. The world is mov­ing away. Then there’s the fall, furi­ous and pen­du­lous until it stops. You have to trust this machine as faith­ful to the canons of moder­ni­ty with its clean design, trans­par­ent and bright like the offices of the new busi­ness dis­trict of La Joli­ette. Amassed at its base, the spec­ta­tors wit­ness the points of resis­tance or rup­ture of the thrill-seek­ers, pris­on­ers of their own dis­qui­et. Mean­while, fur­ther on a stat­ue of Lib­er­ty made of card­board-paste is being demolished.

Fête foraine sur la place du J4, 2007.                                                                                                                       Depuis la cuisine de l'appartement de l'artiste Age, 2007
Fête foraine sur la place du J4, 2007. Depuis la cui­sine de l’ap­parte­ment de l’artiste Age, 2007

“At the same time…”

It is a down­town where there are no schools, no social struc­tures, no parks, no gar­dens, no slides, no trees. Aban­doned by the gov­ern­ment. The future here does not exist. Moder­ni­ty does not enter. Ques­tions of real estate under­score immo­bil­i­ty. No high tech­nol­o­gy, no exper­i­men­ta­tion, no eco­nom­ic hub. Peo­ple are on their own and the chil­dren fol­low. They take over the street, and become its guardians. Races, ball games, scoot­ers — every­one impro­vis­es in life like in the street, with its codes and haz­ards. 

La partie de cartes revisitée, rue d'Aubagne, 2007.
La par­tie de cartes revis­itée, rue d’Aubagne, 2007.

“The Noailles dis­trict wel­comes new­com­ers every day who hope to tap into the urban resources that this place knows how to gen­er­ate. Yet the infor­ma­tion and aid net­works that care for them in this neigh­bor­hood can also exclude the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple from the very rights they could claim. Hous­ing is per­haps the most painful­ly affect­ed sec­tor. Some refer to ‘immi­grant hous­ing stan­dards’ or ‘own­er dic­ta­tor­ship.’ The issue of hous­ing and unsan­i­tary con­di­tions is thus at the heart of a social prob­lem that is fur­ther exac­er­bat­ed by the terms of ongo­ing reha­bil­i­ta­tion, pro­long­ing the project of ‘recon­quer­ing’ the city-center.

“Some, how­ev­er, would not wish to live else­where, because to live in Noailles, start­ing a busi­ness or asso­ci­a­tion, is to ben­e­fit from the rea­son­able prices, qual­i­ty of life at the heart of a trans­port sys­tem, the com­mer­cial den­si­ty, a par­tic­u­lar socia­bil­i­ty, and oth­er resources that are var­ied enough to attract all social class­es, all tra­jec­to­ries, all projects.” 

Marie Sen­gel, anthropologist

Dans la rue du quartier Noailles, 2007. Nassim B. et son petit frère, Noailles, 2007
Dans la rue du quarti­er Noailles, 2007. Nas­sim B. et son petit frère, Noailles, 2007
The collapse of buildings 63 & 65 on Rue d'Aubagne in Noailles on November 5, 2018 at 9 am, resulted in the deaths of eight people.   
The col­lapse of build­ings 63 & 65 on Rue d’Aubagne in Noailles on Novem­ber 5, 2018 at 9 am, result­ed in the deaths of eight people.

“At the same time…”

I felt alone like so many oth­ers. I walked from one place to anoth­er. I crossed one bor­der, then anoth­er, and anoth­er. It’s fun­ny that a city like Mar­seille has so many bor­ders. I thought she was more open and more for­giv­ing. I was daz­zled by its lights as the sun pierced the streets and cast my end­less shad­ow on the side­walk. I bathed in its warmth. I looked at the peo­ple in black and white. I brushed the walls in col­or. I put my head down so I would­n’t see. I was intim­i­dat­ed cross­ing cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods, cross­ing sus­pi­cious glances. I want­ed to over­come my fears. I loved, hat­ed, and final­ly felt that sweet sense of exis­tence — of belong­ing to some­thing, and liv­ing some­where — tak­ing root. I felt inspired by sto­ries that reveal as many drift­ings as hopes.

And now I’m this tired man.

I am tired of these imbal­ances, tired of so much for­get­ful­ness, injus­tice, suf­fer­ing, tired of all these doubts. Because they send me back to my own loneliness.

Don’t leave me in this solitude.

I want to leave, cross the sea, trav­el. I want to meet oth­er cities, oth­er peo­ple. I want to have oth­er feel­ings. I want to “abuse my dreams” and pro­duce new ones.


Oth­er­wise, “I am dying.”

La chute, 2005.
La chute, 2005.

 Recent­ly, Franck Pour­cel pro­duced the images and the pro­duc­tion of the music video of the sin­gle “Chaman” of the band De la Crau. Their work is firm­ly anchored in the her­itage of Anglo-Sax­on music from the sev­en­ties until today, adding a breath of Mediter­ranean air, a call from the sea.

Their new album “Tem­peri” is a musi­cal epic. The texts, in Occ­i­tan-Provençal-mar­itime, writ­ten by Sam Karpi­enia, evoke migrants flee­ing war, the tribu­la­tions of the soul in pain, the reap­pro­pri­a­tion of the means of pro­duc­tion by work­ers, eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter, the doubts and hopes of young peo­ple in work­ing-class neighbourhoods.

 “Chaman,” the sec­ond song from the dig­i­tal album Tem­peri (released on Feb­ru­ary 19, 2021), evokes “the loss of the rela­tion­ship to nature in the face of the indus­tri­al­iza­tion of life”.

De la Crau.

De la Crau.

Franck Pourcel lives in Marseille where he is a freelance writer-photographer. His work questions peoples’ relationship with their territory, especially the Mediterranean. His photographic work, in black and white and in color, combines documentary with contemporary artistic creation. He pays particular attention to the obstacles of our time and the regions they damage. His work takes stock of the forms and ways of life that continue in a world ravaged by capitalism — to better understand the possibilities for reinvention — upon which our survival depends.

He is the author of dozens of books including Cahier #8, Filigranes Éditions/Zoème, 2019; Ulysses or the Constellations, text by Gilles Mora Le Bec en air editions, 2013; By will or by Force, Noailles in Times of Rehabilitation, texts and testimonies collected by Marie Sengel, Editions P'tits Papiers, 2007; The Little Sea of the Forgotten, Etang de Berre, Mediterranean Paradox, text by Jean-Louis Fabiani, Le Bec en air editions, 2006.

black & white photographyMarseilleNoaillesthe working class


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