As a documentary photographer focusing on urban landscape, Luca Sallusti aims at controlling – and explaining – the environment surrounding him. He does so by dividing the space in sections and only showing us a small part of what he sees. The inspiration for how to visually “simplify” Paris came to him, of all places, cruising along the Seine river on the Bateaux Mouches — a Parisian landmark as iconic as the Tour Eiffel, though no Parisian would acknowledge ever setting foot on one.
These open “fly boats” – as the French name literally translates – started operating with steamers in 1867, and are still one of the most popular ways for thousands of tourists every year to discover Paris. Sallusti wasn’t one of them, until a friend visited him. “Once on the boat though, I couldn’t bring myself to look up at the city: I was obsessed by what Parisians were doing on the river banks.”
Armed with a tripod, he spent days walking up and down the Seine, asking the owners of the peniches, the wooden boats docked on the river banks, if he could get on their roofs or decks to take pictures.
“When photographing Paris, the gaze is always towards the water, rather than the other way around,” says Sallusti, who chose to chane that vantage point.
Judging from his work Bords de Seine, Parisians are capable of completely isolating themselves, even in a square foot. While some groups interact, in fact, there’s usually someone sitting right next to them who seems to be on a different planet — in absolute tranquility. "I found such opposite attitudes towards the city, albeit only a few feet apart, almost comical," says the Italian photographer. "For Romans this would be completely impossible: they forcefully have to get in each other’s space.”
The Seine river banks are also the only UNESCO site in Paris, a surprising difference for Sallusti, used to his hometown’s UNESCO maze. In Rome though, these sites are often not accessible, so they’re not really a place where daily life plays out.
Sallusti liked "the idea of placing strangers, characters, in my pictures, just as if it were a still life painting," he says. "Or a theatre pièce." It could be the guy jogging into his frame, more or less at the same time every single day. Or the couple that was very much in love – at least enough not to care about the camera pointed right at them. "Maybe because they’re so isolated, face to face with the water, Parisians here finally manage to reclaim a piece of the city as their own. Especially since [the terror attacks of] last year, there’s really a need for that."
Luca Sallusti is an Italian photographer based in Paris.