They had a surprise for us, specially brewed by luxembourgish photographer Marc Wilwert. As Marc is a native of the southern city of Esch-sur-Alzette, the challenge had of course something to do with this region.
Esch is known for it’s very typical, very outspoken, working class, left voting and deeply honest people. This city was once the center of the blooming luxembourgish mining and steel industry that made the wealth of the country until it was supplanted by low wage countries and replaced as money-maker by the banking ‘industry’, It is known as the red earth city – Terres rouges, in french, for the deeply red color of it’s soil, full of iron ore.
We left the studio early and were driven to the centre of Esch, to the municipality. There we met Marc and he unveiled the weekend’s challenge.
What could it be but a thing related to the color red. And truly it was:
Produce 5 photographs to the saying of:
I see red!
My first reaction: I see red… no, I see black!
Red in any sense, first, second, third… anything was possible! We just had to transpose the theme into our photography.
Problem! Seeing red for a pure black and white photographer like me kills some of the more obvious possiblities. What was left for me? Showing the color red in monochrome, showing things everyone knows are red but in black and white… no, too easy!
Showing any social upheavings, related to the politic ‘red’ wing? Everything is calm in Esch on a cold, wintery saturday morning! No way!
What does seeing red mean? Angry, being angry!
Yes, I had my idea. Getting people to show their anger! Easy peasy, give me half an hour and I’ll have all 5 photos in the box. So off I go to the (nearly empty) streets of early saturday morning Esch, seeking angry people.
Well, I called the people of Esch outgoing, outspoken, impulsive, active….. and yes, each person I stopped in the street and I talked to, told me what made them angry, had a story to tell. Human stories. Real ones. Stories of their lives! But did they show their anger? NO!
The people of Esch are much too nice and good natured to show anger. They tried, to please me, they really tried, but it was obviously a nicely faked anger.
Bummer, what to do with this? Time slipped away, the frames accumulatd on my film, but no anger, no real anger at least. I got a problem! A big one, and as I roamed the streets, followed by the TV cameras I already began to search desperately for plan B.
But there was no plan B. I was committed to my photos, too late to rethink everything. What with the time to develop, scan, edit…. So I went on stubbornly, accosting strangers, something I NEVER did before, and filled my film with half-angry but extremely touching, interresting, and photogenic people.
An idea began to form slowly…. I will try to weave some story around my photos, try to make my series into something I could sell to the jury as ‘seeing red’!
So I devised a speech, a heartfelt speech to justify my photographs. But I admit, at the beginning I felt it was somewhat contrived:
“What is Esch-sur-Alzette? The city of the red earth, the Terres rouges! But what is it above that? It’s a city defined by it’s people, by their lives, their feelings their emotions! The color red is the life blood of it’s people, who are angry, passionate, loving and lovable. They are true, they are real people.True people of the red earth! With all their emotions, their desires, their expectations and their desperation. They are REAL!”
I was in an ecstatic state, I never ever had done this. I have never stopped people on the streets, asking them to show their feelings, telling them they were great, beautiful, strong and proud. At that moment in time I was happy! I did something I loved to do, I did something I never had the courage to do. Perhaps I’ll never do it again in this way, but that day was special for me!
And upon returning to the studio, after having developed my film and evaluated my photos I saw that I captured exactly what I thought to be a plan B: Real people, happy people, angry people, fear, desperation…. the whole gamut of human nature in some streets in the centre of a small city.
That’s Esch-sur-Alzette, the City of Red Earth!
If you want to watch the challenge, you can go HERE!
By the way, I passed the challenge! See you next week for something….. well, special.
Thanks for being here!