As the European Union is formed and all is in place for populations to move freely around, is there a feeling of European identity and an exchange of people and cultures?
This is what Stephen Huljak wonders as he sees men and women walking past his studio on the Boulevard Mortier,
near Paris’s Porte de Bagnolet.
So he started walking up and down the boulevards edging Paris’s city centre and photographed the faces of these
strangers, to see what they look like, these people who make up Europe.
He chose twelve of these ‘Portes ‘ to retrace Paris’s borders. At each Porte, the asked 12 people to let him
take a picture of their face.
He wants to capture the very essence and the most clearly individual aspect of each one of them, i.e.
the face, the “mirror of the soul”. He went to the Gates of Paris, near the Metro stations, in the early morning,
aiming for the busiest time and place, when will and freedom dissolve, a typically uneventful time.
A rough and ready casting ensues, to steal an instant and sometimes even a smile from those who rush to work
each morning, oblivious of everyone else. What is left is 150 anonymous faces. Yet from each of these he remembers
something special, whether an anecdote or a unique impression. All these people have let the photographer catch them.
Very few walked off without offering a smile.
The use of a single framing expresses a threefold refusal: refusal of differences, refusal of history, which framing
imposes on the image, and refusal of the artist’s intervention. Through the use of a neutral device, Stephen Huljak’s
pictures impart the strength, energy and presence of these faces from Paris’s working class and suburban bourgeoisie alike.
Far from aiming to produce a representative standard face, he wants to show that each one of them is anonymous, yet
individual and totally different. The collection needs to be large enough to offer a quasi certainty, that yes, they do exist.
Through this venture, Stephen Huljak, who himself is French with a Slovak grandfather, and as a child moved with his
family each year to another city, has gathered some of his roots from around Europe.
Among all these men and women, here is perhaps the European.