Melanie R. skims the streets of France and around the world and changes our vision through two instagram accounts. With @lestrottoirs, she shows us that looking at your feet can be a good thing. With @onedayoneportrait_, she dresses up the walls with her colorful portraits.
Why did you start the @lestrottoirs account?
The first sidewalk I’ve photographed was in Beirut in March 2016. I went to live in Lebanon for a few months as part of my job (I’m a journalist) and I spent a lot of time walking around the city. The transformation of Beirut has always fascinated me and beyond the walls and facades that tell so much about the turbulent history of this country (all these buildings disfigured by war alongside new residences), I started to look at the soils which also testify to the ultra rapid modernization of the city. In Beirut, few people walk on foot, and the sidewalks are often very damaged and cluttered (holes, garbage, parked cars), so it is essential to really look at where you walk to avoid falling.
One day while walking in the steep Achrafieh district, I was stopped by a nice cracked yellow and red tile pavement that had been consolidated with concrete. This is my first picture. In the following weeks, I continued to search for symbolic or simply graphic sidewalks and began to accumulate photos in my phone.
In the summer of 2016, I went to New York for a week and to my surprise, I noticed a lot of things on the ground too. And besides especially street art. When I finally returned to France in September, I thought I would watch what I could find on the sidewalks of Paris. I had never paid attention to it and it only took me a few walks to find my happiness. So the idea of a dedicated Instagram account came to me and that’s how it all started, with always the same direction to create a kind of series that is as graphic as possible.
For two years, the search for sidewalks has become a real activity, I walk a lot, sometimes just to find interesting floors (often street art but not only that). This allows me to discover new neighborhoods, places in Paris where I had never set foot. In addition to the advertising that is growing on the sidewalks and taking more and more space, many artists have begun to express themselves on the ground. Their goal is often to make us smile or to call out the hurried passersby, which I like very much.
Wherever I go now, I look a lot at the ground, in India where I go almost every year, but also in Lyon, Iran, Dubai, London …
Every day I am very surprised and touched by the enthusiastic messages I receive on Instagram. Many people send me photos of their feet, give me ideas, encourage me. So I continue, and my research seems endless!
Do we see the world better by not looking up ?
Let’s say we see the world differently even if of course I also look up in the air! The sidewalk is often associated with a dirty place to which nobody pays attention. Today, in the big cities, we walk quickly, in a hurry, our eyes fixed on our phone without noticing that under our feet are hidden wonders. The idea of my account is also to encourage people to slow down, to look around them because often the beauty is also in the most unlikely places. I often receive messages from people who discover my photos and tell me that they will now pay more attention to where they put their feet. Mission successful!
And, as surprising as it may seem, the sidewalk also tells the story of a country and a city. The tiles and symbols that were used but also sometimes commemorative plaques, historical indications …
What is your favorite picture and why?
The one that is most valuable to me is the first one I took in Beirut. Because it symbolizes the beginning of this beautiful adventure. Not a second taking this picture, I imagined that it could become a project, let alone a project that would span several years. And then, she represents a slice of my life during which I learned a lot about myself, where I took a lot of myself to move forward.
You also have a street-art account #OneDayOnePortrait, can you tell us more about it?
I have been practicing photography for about fifteen years and specialized in portraiture. During my travels (as often as possible!), I spend my time immortalizing the faces of people I meet in the street. For years, I stored these images on my computer, without showing them to anyone except my close entourage who always encouraged me to « do something about it ». An exhibition, a book … But I never dared to show them.
Annoyed by this lack of self-confidence, my friend, who has been posting posters on the street for a very long time, suggested that I stick my portraits on the walls in the street. To offer them to passers-by, to free myself from the barriers that I impose on myself. I ended up listening and in November 2017, with the help of Fé_tavie, a Parisian street-artist, I stuck my first picture in the twentieth arrondissement of Paris. It was a revelation, I loved, and I never stopped, even if I admit to be less productive in the winter 😉 Paste in the street, it’s liberating, we feel capable of everything, we share who we are with the outside world, we expose ourselves, we take risks. I feel alive like never when I do it and it makes me feel good.
And then, I find that my portraits put a little color and diversity in the sometimes monotonous streets of Paris. The piercing gaze of the people I photograph challenges, encourages once again to slow down, to feel, to think.
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What are your next projects and sidewalks that you want to cover in the coming weeks?
I have been very busy in recent months and I did not have much time to walk in Paris so I’ll have to organize some walks in the twentieth, the thirteenth and eighteenth, neighborhoods where I often find treasures. Otherwise, I would love to return to New York this summer and there, I’m sure to find my happiness. Anyway, no matter the city and country in which I am, it is now natural for me to look at the sidewalks and I always find something interesting.