I didn't photograph them right away. Like the fox and The Little Prince, I wanted to earn their trust. For a long time I kept my distance and observed the way they lived in an attempt to blend into their world, and gradually we got to know each other.
They lived among us like shadows in the city, in a parallel world which is almost exclusively masculine. People walking by seem to look right through them without seeing them. Some were called Robert, Jacquot, Marcel, LÃ©on, Albert, Fernand ou Gilbert, whereas others distinguished themselves with nicknames based on their personalities or a more glorious past. Pierre wasn't quite all there, and because of his frequently distracted behavior, they called him "Pierrot la Lune" (Pierrot the moon"). Jean had driven an ambulance in the army, so he was "Jeannot l'Ambulance ("Jeannot the Ambulance"). Resembling a mad scientist with his long beard and wild white hair, Raymond, who often harangued his compatriots with speeches far too complex for mere mortals to understand, was "Raymond la Science". As for AndrÃ©, he was never without his most prized possession: military papers which proved he had been in the Foreign Legion. With great pride, he'd show them to anyone who would give him a moment of their time. He would tell tales of journeys to far away lands, deceased comrades, and an all too fleeting childhood which eternally haunted him and which - more importantly - kept the present at bay. His nickname was "DÃ©dÃ© la LÃ©gion" (DÃ©dÃ© the Foreign Legion"). Like all of them, DÃ©dÃ© held on to his nostalgic memories of better times before the fall that led them here.
They all had a story of a brighter past that they were dying to tell. Some proudly spoke of a daughter or son with whom they'd lost touch, but who had successful lives. These men too had been children full of dreams and now they slept on sidewalks under bridges. Poverty united them. To deceive their loneliness and take respite from their misery, they often had only one bottle of cheap red wine to share between them.
But one thing they all had in common was an injured heart that caused them at some point to give up. People said they lived like this because they chose to; because they wanted to be free; because they refused to live by the rules. Not true. They'd simply lost their bearings. It was as if they were stranded on the high seas with no buoy to hang on to to keep them from drowning and no rescue in sight. They were children who couldn't fit in to a grown-up world. Life had wounded them too deeply. The battle was one-sided. They were all too tenderhearted to fight.
I couldn't casually pass by, take a few pictures as if they were some amusement park attraction, and then be on my way. They had nothing. I didn't want to steal their image to boot. Of course there were times I took pictures without them being aware of it in order to catch a scene or a gesture or a spontaneous expression. But I wanted something else. I wanted to photograph their story; to know who they were; to read in their eyes. Conversation was difficult since my camera inspired suspicion, so I took it off until a sort of trust was established between us and they began slowly to reveal themselves. It was only then that the camera became an extension of the discussion.
Did they invent their brighter pasts? How could I know? Perhaps they embroidered a bit here and there but as I listened to them, something deep in their eyes came to the surface like a mirage they wished they could grasp in order to illuminate the present with a glimmer of hope.