Thomas arrives on a stately black motorbike. He’s running late. All the equipment for the shoot is leaning against a low wall, where he has chosen to pose for the photo. «My secret spot», he says when he arrives, pointing to a niche among the trees on theIle Saint-Louis with a view of the huge Notre Dame building site. It’s May, 10.30 am, and the sun is shining brightly over the bateaux-mouches that are once again coming and going along the Seine. Thomas lifts the helmet and unveils his long black hair. «I’m used to photo shoots,» he says in a determined voice, looking the photographer in the eye as he pulls a Mauritian flag from his rucksack. Then he asks shyly: «Maria, can we also take a photo of me on the motorbike with the balaclava?».
Maria Di Stefano’s photographs, on show at The Room Projects in Paris, embody a unique duality. On the one hand, the strong look of the protagonists staring at the lens. On the other, an archipelago of moments unfolds under the viewer’s gaze, revealing different shades of personalities, places, and relationships that led to the series THIS IS US - PARIS.
Pursuing a project begun in Rome in 2021, these photographs feature twenty young Parisians of non-European origins who cannot obtain French nationality until the age of eighteen.
The portraits presented in the exhibition reflect the
questions around the notion of identity - the same questions that, over several months of research, led the Italian artist and photographer to adopt an approach that resonates with that of the novelist, poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant, and more specifically to his concept of opacity. This notion, expressed by contrast with the transparency of the fabrics on which the photographs are printed, finds its echo throughout the series.
The desire to turn stereotypical views and predetermined opinions underpins this photographic project, in which the right to opacity as expressed by Edouard Glissant - the right to preserve one’s own shadow, or in other words, one’s psycho-cultural depth - is claimed and strongly communicate by the protagonists.
«It’s a philosophical attitude,» explains Altaïna and Coco Alungo’s father, sitting under his yurt as he traces the history of this traditional Mongolian architecture. For him, folding up his home and moving around without leaving a trace is not just the tradition of nomadic people, it is also an attitude towards alterity. «On earth, we are only visitors. We don’t live forever, do you understand?».
Maria Di Stefano’s work always begins with long conversations. Photography is only the outcome. Unintentionally, all the talks that took place behind
each portrait seemed to illustrate the opacity. In THIS IS US – PARIS, the portraits translate these unique exchanges, in which the notion of relation - another pillar of Edouard Glissant’s thought - becomes essential to the encounter and, consequently, to the photo. Maria Di Stefano’s photographic gesture thus becomes multi- language, a tool for writing down the crucial bond between opacity and relation.
To mark the artist’s first solo exhibition in France, a selection from the series THIS IS US - PARIS is presented in a unique installation. The transparency of the fabrics on which the portraits of Balthazar, Maharu, Rania, Jhied, Patrick and Morro, among others, are printed invites us to glimpse their opacity without necessarily helping us to understand it. Here, the unpredictable remains an essential condition and an attitude to be assumed.
Let yourself be guided by these images, superimpose them, create your own reading path, abandon your constructs and preconceived ideas, because to get to know these twenty teenagers you don’t need a certain method, but - to put it in Edouard Glissant’s words - a «relational legitimacy».