What Makes the French French, Even in Times of Tumult

Pierre Terdjman has found himself on the France’s roads, shooting photos on the side as if he were keeping a travel diary




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 TerdjmanClockwise (from top left): Medics evacuate people injured in the Bataclan attacks on Nov. 14, 2015; Pentecost procession of the association Notre-Dame de la Chrétienté in Paris on June 1, 2009; A French military fanfare before a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, July 14, 2012; A man holds a sign during a protest march against new labor laws at Place de la Republique in Paris on April 11, 2016.
Pierre Terdjman for the New York TimesBuildings in the Les Bosquets neighborhood of Clichy sous Bois, France.
Pierre Terdjman for Paris MatchChildren inside a social hostel in La Courneuve, France, on Feb. 2, 2012.
Pierre TerdjmanFrom left to right: A man rides the Metro in Paris, Nov. 27, 2007; A man walks outside a police station in Boulogne Billancourt, Nov. 27, 2007.
Pierre Terdjman for the New York TimesFrom left to right: People look at the site of a shooting attack in Rue de Charonne, Paris, on Nov. 17, 2015; A woman sleeps in a regional train on Jan. 28, 2015.
Pierre Terdjman for Paris MatchA man wait to be evacuated as French authorities have cleared nearly 4,000 people from Paris’ biggest makeshift migrant camp on Nov. 4, 2016.
Pierre Terdjman for Paris MatchPeople gather to show their support for the employees of Charlie Hebdo killed in a terrorist attack. Jan. 11, 2015.
Pierre TerdjmanFrom left to right: A man prays at the entrance of a building in the neighborhood of Bellefontaine in Toulouse, France, Feb. 17, 2013 ; A Christian pilgrim holds a cross during an open-air mass in Paris during Pope Benedicte XVI’s visit, Sept. 13, 2008.

Pierre Terdjman for Paris MatchChildren play in a fountain at Place du Trocadero in Paris on June 1, 2009.
Pierre TerdjmanHip-hop artist shoot a music video in Toulouse, France, on Feb. 17, 2013.
Pierre Terdjman for Paris MatchClockwise (from top left): Chinese prostitutes wait for clients in Paris, June 29, 2012; An air guitar concert show in Paris, June 26, 2008; Paris Fashion Week, March 9, 2010; Friday Prayers during Ramadan in Toulouse, France, Aug. 19, 2012.
Pierre Terdjman for Paris MatchA man in a camp of Roma travelers on the outskirts of Marseille, France, Oct. 4, 2010.
Pierre Terdjman for GrazziaProtests against a new airport near Notre Dame des Landes, France, Nov. 18, 2012. The sign reads: “Welcome to the free zone.”

Pierre Terdjman is a French freelance photographer.

Olivier Laurent, who edited this photo essay, is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

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