Archive for 2014

behind the veil

Quran, Grand Mosque of Paris

French secularism has fascinated me since the controversial 2004 law banning religious markers in public schools. I was raised in a secular household, yet was a fervent supporter of the freedom of religion, having been born in a country built upon that ideal. Nothing about it made any sense to me.

My study of French colonialism, the 2013 Boston bombings, my close friendships with religious classmates, my yearlong sejour in Paris — everything eventually bought me closer to understanding and to this photodocumentary project, which felt almost inevitable at times. This project was the beginning of my anthropology senior thesis on laïcité and also the first time I've shot anything like this. It also saved me in a lot of ways. Made the summer bearable post-breakup, gave my life direction when I returned to Hamilton.

This project was shot on 35mm film the summer of 2014 in Paris and the surrounding areas. Here's a cool article Hamilton wrote about me.

Artists Statement:
Laïcité is the French tradition of secularism that has defined the political landscape for the past century. It exists as a measure to protect the rights of French citizens and preserve the ideals of liberté, egalité, fraternité that France lives by. This tradition has existed in the predominantly Catholic country for nearly a century without much conflict, but the France of today is a vastly different nation than it once was. France is a multicultural nation-state that is home to millions, including the French-born sons and daughters of immigrants hailing from the former North African colonies. Islam is also on the rise, growing to become the second largest religion in France. This dramatic demographic change has destabilized the long-standing Catholic identity of France. This insecurity has changed how laïcité has been invoked within the past decade, contributing to many of the current controversies surrounding Islam in France.

As a second generation Taiwanese immigrant, I am interested in exploring issues of identity as they relate to multiethnic individuals. This project seeks to examine how religion factors into that. “Behind the Veil” is a visual exploration of how French Muslims construct their identity in the face of secularism. I focused on the stories of four young French citizens—Rachid, Assa, Anfal, and Nadim—to create a narrative that attempts to destabilize the monolithic image of Muslims that dominate mass media. The media has appropriated their image and I wanted to use photography to allow them to represent themselves in the way that they wanted to be seen, in order to reclaim their image. The series also became a study of spaces, examining how spaces in and around Paris can serve to explain history and represent the root causes of inequality and perceived failures in integration. The spaces not only highlight the state failures and self-segregation that perpetuate disparity, but they also act as channels through which individuals reaffirm their identities.

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Long gone are the days of flooded parks and tragic seventeen year old love, of chaste touches that burned and a maddeningly beautiful tortured lost poet boy. Those days, everything hurt and nothing seemed possible except for the inevitable break. All the beautiful words in the world could do nothing for us.

I'm older now and since then, I've left behind our home and wandered the world, which turned out to be far more wonderful and terrible than I could've ever imagined.

Here, I found you.

There are many names for this place, but none of them really matter when we are here existing at the same time.

There's a Gabriel Garcia Marquez quote that I ripped that off from but you know that already.

Tell me to describe my perfect man and he would look nothing like you. You're shorter than me, wear briefs rather than boxers, prefer boring white people food and classic rock, have the smallest apartment I've seen in my life, have a stupid mustache, and you aren't actually as good at piano as you think you are.

But you clean my kitchen for me after I cook, and you pick me up from class at Madeleine and put up with my scattered brain, my annoying friends, my various neuroses. You're kind and self reliant and funny and just cautious enough to keep me out of trouble, but still adventure with me. You play music and sing for me and you hold me tight when I cry and God, the sight of a slant of sun is resting on your bare back is the most beautiful thing I've seen in my life and I love you.

the submarine

Deep underground in a pit filled with developer and fixer, Jana and I found each other. 

We were both studying abroad in Paris this past semester, taking classes at the same crazy photography studio near Bastille. It was a strange little place run by an old man called Philippe. There was too much English, occasional homemade cookies and cakes waiting for us, two full studios, a shy cat, and, underneath a trapdoor on the floor of the second studio, a cramped darkroom where Jana and I worked once a week. 

The "submarine", as Philippe affectionately nicknamed the darkroom, was barely wide enough to fit the two of us sometimes, but twice as long as it was wide. I would hit my head coming out of the hatch and I've definitely fallen down the stairs before coming in and out. The wash bath was constantly swirling with dozens of near identical prints, mostly Jana's fault. The chemical baths were of questionable concentrations, mostly my fault. Poorly ventilated. Steep, almost ladder-like stairs. A radio that had terrible reception. And there definitely was no lightproof barrier against the outside world. 

But that place became ours over the course of the semester, quand meme

We spent endless hours in that darkroom together. We talked about living in Paris and being away from home. We texted each other endlessly as we constantly botched social interactions in French. We talked about Adam and David, Jacob and Hunter. We took necessary near hourly escapes to get bakery snacks near St Paul and hide from Philippe, who would descend into our refuge every once in a while to meddle and drive us insame. I might have fainted once. Jana was always incredibly neurotic. I only ever played my music. She would get irritable when not properly fed. Despite it all, we became each other's lifeline through everything. Both of us were falling in love with the city and with a man at the same time. And without even realizing it, each other. 

home and other iterations

Every morning, I climb into the mute woman's bosom and she carries me in her bloodstream, veins spiderwebbing across the city. A lifegiving force over a century-old, still steady and strong. Anonymous infinities collide against each other in the rapidly flowing current.

High up on Menilmontant, there's a little street where the hermits dwell. It's there that I made my second home, far away from the rest of the world. We build little towers of condensed milk and lavender, roses and coffee grounds, blind to the impossibility of it all.