Absurd, all I did was search the web for the most dangerous city in the USA. I wanted to find that strange energy given off by places where rules and social constraints have been abolished or weakened. A sense of freedom mixed with the excitement of danger. Or maybe I wanted to check that it’s still possible to reach out to others, as distant and alien as they might seem.
At the top of the list I found Camden, New Jersey, less than two hours from New York. There, I discovered the face of everyday poverty hidden behind stigma and stereotype. People are tough but their laughs touch me, and when I got mugged by a prostitute, she gave me $10 so I would not be totally stranded.
The city has two intricate, mingled, superimposed maps: the first is geometric, complete with streets, some cars, a few scattered stores and big toxic and putrid factories, the second one has tortuous pathways through burnt houses and empty lots, haunted by junkies and whores. At first I photographed crackheads in the street for $2 a session. And then I met Supreme, who would get me into houses for $20, sweettalking the inhabitants and pretending to be an art student or an undercover cop. Later, I learned that he spent 17 years in jail for murder.
I go back regularly and hand out the photos I have taken there. I have proudly become a kind of neighbourhood photographer whose production is hanging in some living rooms, above the T.V.
I’m interested in what we have in common with people from Camden. But then again, photography is always about difference. I wonder if there’s any point adding more spectacle to the spectacle. Maybe I help to provide some material evidence about the economic and social machine that swallows us up and spits us out. The question of how to determine what truth is—and then what to do with it—is at the base of every political and social conflict.
Jean-Christian Bourcart is represented by VU’ la galerie and Rapho agency in Paris and by Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York.
Courtesy Galerie VU', Andrea Meislin Gallery.
Prints by Janvier, Paris.
Jean-Christian Bourcart thanks particulary Olympus.