PHOTOGRAPHS BY PIERRE TERDJMAN | TEXT BY OLIVIER LAURENT
France has had a tumultuous few years. As the site of three major terrorist attacks in just two years — the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015, the Paris terror attacks of November 2015 and Nice’s truck carnage in July 2016 — its people are living on the edge. Meanwhile, its political leaders are caught in scandals, from President François Hollande’s romantic affairs to claims of embezzlement leveled against two leading candidates in this month’s presidential election, Marine Le Pen and François Fillon.
“French society is depressed,” says Pierre Terdjman, a freelance photographer who’s spent the last ten years crisscrossing his country on assignments for the New York Times and Paris Match, among other outlets. “People are tired of the political scandals. They don’t understand how they are being governed. I feel that people are shutting themselves off and growing suspicious of each other.”
Terdjman returned to France in 2007 after spending several years in Israel as a news photographer for Haaretz. “I found myself on the country’s roads, shooting photos on the side as if I were keeping a travel diary,” he says. Years later, as the presidential campaign got underway, Terdjman went back to his archives — 10 years’ worth of them. “I found a body of work that’s more personal, something that tells the story of the France I’ve seen,” he tells TIME.
Among his photographs are moments of tension (in one, for example, a victim of the attack on the Bataclan is evacuated as bystanders look in shock) but also moments of communion: one photograph shows people united against terror while another celebrates France’s joie de vivre as kids play in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
And that’s the paradox that sets France apart. Despite everything that seems to be going wrong, Terdjman still sees a society that’s “clinging to its traditions and way of life” — and yet, looking at the political situation, it’s clear that something has to give. “I don’t know what will happen in these elections,” he says, “but what I see is that people want change.”
Pierre Terdjman is a French freelance photographer.