Life

Photos of Life in Paris’ Tower Blocks – Minus the Clichés

We spoke to Jean-Michel Landon, a social worker-turned-photographer, who captures life in the outskirts of Paris.

by Louis Dabir
21 August 2019, 8:30am

The kids of Créteil. All photos by Jean-Michel Landon

This article originally appeared on VICE France.

As I flicked through Instagram one night, I noticed a black-and-white photo of a young boy with a wide smile. It was from the account "Linstable Photographie", which has posted nearly a hundred photos, all of which depict the lives of young people in and around the tower blocks of Créteil – a low-income Paris suburb home to a high concentration of social housing.

The account is run by photographer Jean-Michel Landon. I met the former social worker at a Créteil café. As we talked, young people from the area would pop in just to say hi to him. Landon told me that he likes to chat with the kids in the evening as he takes photos, and give them advice or just listen. We spoke about his unique journey from social worker to photographer, and why he is so determined to help the young people of Créteil navigate their ever-changing neighbourhood.

VICE: Hey, Jean-Michel! How did you first get into photography?
Jean-Michel Landon: I would often carry a disposable camera around when I was younger. I used to take photos of my friends in the neighbourhood and on holiday. But my passion really started in October 2011 when I was working as a social worker on a housing project in Sablière [a village in south-east France]. I took my first "real" photo there.

And that's when you decided to be a professional photographer?
Yes, and it came naturally. After I found out that the housing project was going to be entirely demolished, I decided to launch a photography project to preserve the memories of the estate. I wanted to show what life was like in and objective way. Now, I'm focused on the Échat blocks in Créteil.

Life in the projects is often romanticised, and the clichés perpetuated by the media haven’t helped the problem at all. Who is better placed than us, the people who actually live in these districts, to describe our daily lives and balance out the conversation? It’s not about sugar-coating our reality, but trying to be fair and show everything.

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What's interesting about Échat?
It's first and foremost a business area, where there is also a university and the local education authority. In the middle of all that, there are about ten low-income council blocks, and a private condo made up of five or six buildings. Over the past 10 years, social problems have been on the rise, but it's not that visible to everyone because of the way the area is structured.

The population of the neighbourhood is getting younger, but its authorities aren't responding to their needs. There is no infrastructure in place to make them feel welcome. The council is turning a blind eye to the high unemployment here, and nothing is being done to improve the communal living. This is why I want to document what's actually happening on the ground.

You spend a lot of time with the young people, listening and advising them. How did you become so close?
It just happened. I am what they call "an elder" in Créteil – I've worked as a social worker for nearly 20 years in suburbs around Paris; I'm known for being both a friend and an advocate. I've proved myself to the kids, so I’ve never had a problem. But my interactions with them also go beyond photography; I'm always ready to lend a hand to anyone who asks. The problems that some of the young people in these areas face haven't really changed since the tower blocks were built. The projects are overflowing with wasted talent.

Is your work well received in the suburbs?
Yes, actually the mayor of the town knows me very well. It’s been two years since I wrote him to warn him about the growing problems in the neighbourhood. For the moment, he is still impervious to my proposals. One thing’s for sure, though: I am too stubborn to leave it at that.

Scroll down to see more photos from Jean-Michel Landon.

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