Faces/Places – An Intro

Courtesy of C. Levin

I am a die-hard Anthony Bourdain fan.  I praise and preach his adventures and the entirety of the Parts Unknown series as if it were the gospel of my sacred New Testament – referencing the Hanoi episode where Bourdain takes a street-side meal with former President Obama (Season 8, Episode 1) as the parallel of a Jesuit’s Isaiah 41:10.

I find myself always incapable of pitching the series justice, as I hate to describe it on a generic scale, as just some culinary travel show.

The premise of it is not food centric nor is it some cliché American site-seeing odyssey: the purpose follows a grander scheme intended to humanize hidden pockets of the world that can often seem distant to the average viewer – treating a coal mining town in West Virginia as equally spectacular as locations such as Rome, Marseille, Lagos or the Congo River.

The best way I could characterize it beyond the clichéd preface: raw and real, eyes and mouth wide open to take in the unfiltered experience. Of course, that description recurringly confronts an ironic front, given the series entailed a constant curation of casual “days in the life”.

But regardless of the Hollywood hypocrisies, Parts Unknown evokes an inexplicable authenticity seeking to portray the grander truth of our world via the storytelling of charm, warmth, and nuance in every culture/ location encounter.

In recent years, I similarly fell in love with Visages Villages, the collaborative cinematic project between Belgian icon director Agnes Varda and French street artist JR.

Varda is famed for her New Wave cinema déclenchage and along with poignant documentaries, with films such as Murs Murs, Black Panthers, Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse.

JR is known for projects such as Inside Out, where he plastered thousands of anonymous faces on massive scales in the Panthéon, the historic French monument which prides itself on allowing but a select few to be eternally anchored in our collective memory.

Throughout the film, Varda and JR travel to small French towns in his massive van, decked out as a giant camera. Stocked inside a photo-booth which prints large format shots.

At each stop, they encounter the inhabitants of the community, take their portraits, print them out massive scale and then plaster them on houses, barns, storefronts – any building that can serve as a canvas. Ordinary “anonymous” people become framed as larger than life.

Courtesy of C.Levin

In each place they visit, they’ll meet the people there. JR will produce his epic-size black-and-white portraits of them, which they will then plaster on houses, barns, storefronts: any available surface.

In doing so, they will render the people large and anchored in the community’s narrative – along with Varda’s lapsing memory.  The film provides a platform to tell the stories of the French working class that would typically go untold – concerning communities’ both present and past narratives.

It establishes productive connections to alter the public’s way of seeing things, notably this demographic being often demeaned as blue-collar alt-right supporters.

The purpose of the new Swoppt series draws inspiration from these projects to familiarize readers with niche little spaces emblematic of a grander place, fruitful with stories behind every initially nameless face.

Thus, the start of a new two-part series, intended to illustrate how a specific location and individual can trigger the making of images, ideas and emotions, surpassing status quo generalizing tendencies:

Faces:  will provide portraits of the average person with a story worth sharing.  In our original day and age, we’re absent-mindedly obsessed with self-portrayal, immortalizing the images we project of ourselves to the grander public.  It serves as a moment to place the camera on someone with no fame nor link to our own personal image-building narratives – in short, it allows us to make this individual feel the slightest bit seen.

Places:  balance the portrait with a landscape shot – taking you into a corner of the world that depicts the city, region, country, etc. in its own magical way.  Be it café, park, metro line, street corner… and beyond!  The thesis is to render places more complex than their labels.


With that, submissions are now open.  All stories/discoveries welcome!

About the Article

An introduction to our new “Faces and Places” section that reflects on individuals and life in various corners of our planet.

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