Paris – from 1967 to 1973

In these days, whenever I could, I went hitchhiking around France alone or with friends searching to broaden my photographic horizons. If I was low on money, I’d do chalk drawings on the sidewalk which usually earned me enough money for food. Philippe decided to keep me company on one of my early ventures and we travelled all over France, sleeping under the stars or sometimes sneaking into a shelter that good fortune placed in our path.

Philippe had wanted to do a juggling act in the street for a while, and on this first trip when he gave it a try, he was incredibly successful. He made more money in a few minutes than I did in several hours with my drawings, so we decided that that’s how we’d get by: I would help him set up, snap some pictures as the audience stood riveted by his number, keep an eagle eye out for the police, and sometimes pass the hat before the crowd dispersed. I witnessed Philippe sow the seeds of his poetic world which grew to be one of the most beautiful street acts I have ever seen to this day.

When we got back to Paris, his street juggling character was born. From nowhere Philippe would suddenly appear on his monocycle as if by magic, dressed all in black, with a beat up leather bag across his back, and a ragged top hat on his head. Silently he would trace a chalk circle on the ground and from the middle of this improvised circus ring, he’d attract an audience by juggling a whirlwind of white balls. Or he’d surprise people as they sat on a café terrace by dancing on a slack rope he tied between two trees. I never got tired of watching him in part because of the structure of his performance – he always did a subtle and surprising combination of juggling and prestidigitation – but above all, it was the way he interacted with the audience that made each show unique. I saw the creation of his street routine and watched it slowly evolve, maturing like a fine wine improves with age. It always held the same delight and wonder for me. I always felt like a kid seeing the circus for the first time.

For years I photographed Philippe in his circle almost every night - always with an eye out for the police. If I did see them coming, so as not to alarm his fans, I had to warn him discretely. We were so in tune with each other, it took no more than a certain sort of glance from me and he’d escape from the cops, disappearing as mysteriously as he’d arrived, leaving behind an audience as amused by his exit as they had been by his act.

The Street Juggler