Friends of Place Blanche

I went to see a small showing of Christer Stromholm’s work ‘Les Amie de Place Blanche’ at ICP.

Located behind the larger, crowd-drawing ‘Weegee: Murder is my business’ exhibition, the Stromholm work is more ‘cult viewing’ by comparison. Both are in some ways dealing with sensationalist material. In Weegee’s case, the aftermath of murder, accident and arrest and in Stromholm’s case, a group of transsexuals and street hustlers in Paris in the mid to late nineteen sixties.

However this is where the comparison ends. For where as Weegee, the jobbing tabloid photographer has an eye on the scoop, Stromholm is not interested in making his subjects freaks. These people are friends, people he has come to know and love.

The very act of taking that approach makes these pictures revolutionary. At the time they were taken, an oppressive Gaullist regime was in power that banned men from dressing as women ‘outside the period of a carnival’

The reason they were on the streets at all was to prostitute themselves in order to pay for the sex change operations they craved.

As Stromholm himself states in the introduction to this groundbreaking work “This is a book about the quest for self-identity, about the right to live, about the right to own and control one’s own body”

It’s ironic that many right wing groups that oppose what they term as ‘alternative lifestyles’, whether they be Gaullist Frenchmen or Rick Santorum supporters, are always banging on about freedom and yet want to deny it to people such as these.

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