Tuesday, 5 June 2007
The Other World in One City
Owen Powell - 5th June 2007
Today Alex and I met Philippe Sibelly, a French photographer and artist who lives in London. He'd contacted us after we appeared on the London news, sending us a link to his website that contains details of a project of his called (you've guessed it) 'The World In One City'.
Philippe's was a photographic project, aiming to take a photo of someone from every Olympic nation here in London, in the run-up to the decision about the 2012 Olympics. He began it in 2004, and finished it just in time for the decision day in July 2005. When we met him in the Great Court of the British Museum, he had a huge tube with him - inside the tube, rolled up, was a vast poster showing over 200 faces (the Olympic nations are more numerous than the UN members). Philippe took Polaroids of everyone he met, then asked new people to hold the previous Polaroid in their photo - in effect, the final photo in the sequence contains all the other, ad infinitum. It's a genius idea, and you can see an animation he's made of it on his website.
Sadly, we met Philippe too late for him to be our French representative in London, but he certainly represented London's multiculturalism well. He has an Irish partner (she's the Irish representative in his project) with whom he has a tiny little baby, born in London, and given an Italian name (just to provide him with a fourth national influence). Philippe's current project, called 'The Other Africa', is a tremendously ambitious and exciting one - he plans to visit every one of Africa's 53 nations, photographing people, buildings, institutions and radio DJs to give an insight into the Africa we don't really get to see, the Africa that isn't about war, famine and disease. Alongside this, and with a tiny baby on the go as well, he's also training to become an art teacher.
Our time with Philippe was pretty inspirational. Not only had he attempted to do roughly what we're trying to do (wielding a camera rather than a notebook) without going crazy in the process, he'd actually used it as a springboard to try something with an even bigger scope. We swapped tips on where we should go to meet people, swapped stories about the reactions we'd had to our questioning of people on the street, and discussed our general tactics and rules (Philippe used embassies, for example, whereas we're steering clear). Above all, it was just nice to chat with someone who could identify with what we're doing, and to bandy around phrases like 'Pacific Island nations' and 'smaller West African states' and not be met by blank looks.
The network gets bigger all the time ...