The task of the historian, according to Walter Benjamin, is to give voice to an unnoticed, "nameless" humanity. (1) It is to this same task that Simone Simon's documentary work seems dedicated. The photographs presented here look at a history that has been kept to one side, at a dignity that has been disguised by the struggle for survival. It is not an investigation into hidden traditions, threatened identities, or the reasons for their abandonment. The photographer's work does not seek an explanation; it gives voice, bears witness, recognizes those who ask to be recognized. Started as a search for an image, this project was quickly confronted with the urgency of the interview, which alone could "give voice" to the protagonists of the photos. The interview answers here to the impossibility of any other commentary. The absence of explanations from the author is mixed with the reader's confusion as he discovers a reality that must be denounced: the resonance of the images and the words ask us about the responsibilities of such a reality.The interviews describe a life that the photographs alone make difficult to imagine. The interviews describe a life that the photographs alone make difficult to imagine. Yet the words of the people interviewed testify to the presence of a community, where the images only evoke extreme abandonment. The buildings are unhealthy, the children, often sick because of the housing conditions, walk among the rats: women suffer, live in the forbidden.
Women are the first victims of violence and discrimination. As economic independence is difficult to envisage, and loneliness makes women an object of derision, stories of forced marriages are common. The cries of solitude of Chantal Chawaf's characters (2) seem to find an echo in the words of the interviewees. Are we here in an "infraworld"? A mother talks about the cockroaches in her baby's food. No photo illustrates this reality, and yet this image is present in our eyes, like the others, for which we were not ready. We are confronted with the difficult and long journey to re-housing. However, despite the harshness of the living conditions, there is no lack of flowery balconies, no lack of trust, no lack of memories of good times, no lack of generosity that illuminates daily life, no lack of sharing between neighbors, no lack of the warmth of a "family". The reader then discovers the tears that accompany the rehousing; the feeling of belonging to these places is strong; and what people ask above all are the conditions to stay. "We pay rent" these women tell us - when the images expose the accumulated garbage, the lack of security, the abandonment. Simone Simon tells us the rage and "the poetry" of the daily life of these families. Her documents are neither lacking in irony nor in hope: they tell of simple lives that ask to be seen, heard, recognized.
Chiara Palermo Doctor of Philosophy - University of Strasbourg May 24, 2009
(1) "Parapilomènes et variantes des thèses sur le concept d'histoire", "sur le concept d'histoire" 51940) Ecrit français, Paris, Gallimard.
(2) Among the latest novels of this author, set in a particularly inhospitable suburb:Chantal Chawaf, Inframonde Paris. Des femmes-Antoinette Fouque, 2005