As borders continually open and close in our world today, people meet, come together and sometimes blend as one. Children born of the partnership of two people from different races are the fruit of different cultures, mixed genes and diversity. In France they are described as “métis” or biracial, and even multiracial. Witnessing this growing diversity inspired award-winning photographer, Alexis Duclos, to produce a prolific photographic essay featuring 46 personalities living and working in France today.
The French photojournalist has produced a beautiful album of black and white photographs with his own son, Jordan, in mind. His 24-year old son was born in Paris, France and has a Canadian mother of Chinese origin. Conscious of the different cultures, values and languages Jordan straddles, Alexis sought to capture the beauty and richness which métissage embodies and contributes to French society.
His profiles include individuals from different walks of life who consciously or unconsciously are role models in an evolving French society. Long a country of immigration after the Second World War, France, with its revolutionary spirit of egalité, projects itself as a color-blind society, refusing, for example, to measure race, ethnicity, or religion in its censuses. And yet France is, undeniably, a vibrant multi-ethnic and multiracial society. With the photographs, each personality in Alexis Duclos’ collection provides a mini-essay on how he or she sees and lives a mixed heritage.
Journalist Christine Kelly says of her multi-ethnicity: “When I travel, I am a citizen of the world in Cuba, in Egypt and the United States. On the other hand, when I am in France, people often ask me where I come from. Yet, I am simply French.”
Fashion designer Barbara Bui wrote, “I view my métissage not as a difference but rather a distinction” that propels her artistic expression.
Others admit a hyphenated identity is both difficult and easy. For economist and former Prime Minister of Benin (2015),Lionel Zinsou, who was born to a French mother and Beninese father, says: “To be biracial is to be a foreigner everywhere. To be a biracial African is to be black in Europe and white in Africa. To be biracial is to not resemble your parents, therefore, you must resemble yourself.”
A larger selection of Alexis’ photo essay entitled “Métis“ has been published in the new 2018 Autumn/Winter edition of the web magazine, Openeye, dedicated to contemporary photography. INSPIRELLE, which celebrates diversity, reached out to Alexis Duclos so that he could share his vision of Métis with as many people as possible.
Alexis, what inspired you to produce a photographic feature on “Métis” in France?
A photographer is first an observer. To observe French society is to note that the population is made up of more and more people of various origins. To testify through images of this social reality seemed interesting to me. In addition, my son is métis; this motivated me even more. Born in France to a French father — myself — and a Canadian mother of Chinese descent, my son, Jordan, is one of the 46 black and white portraits I produced. I wanted to photograph métis personalities from all walks of life. Writers, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, athletes …
In your search for subjects to photograph, who were you looking for and why?
I wanted to photograph as many women as men. And as far as possible, I have taken photographs of famous and successful people to inspire others, especially the younger generations. My editorial line was to highlight these people who have realized or made their dreams come true! Accomplished, good people whose work and spirit are a source of inspiration for others.
What is the message that you hope to share with your beautiful photos?
I think the métis person is ahead of his or her time. The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote: “If you are different from me, far from harming me, you enrich me.”
If I have a message, it is that of benevolence. Métis is an album of photographs, looks that highlight diversity to better combat racism, which in my opinion is the worst scourge.
Was everyone receptive to your idea?
In so far as I wanted to photograph celebrities, I had to obtain authorizations, organize photo shoots with them. And then I quickly realized that some individuals had issues about being photographed under this theme. Some personalities were concerned with appearance, the regard of others and the role of their identity. These are questions that can be painful for some or not important for others. Who am I? What are my roots? What is my culture? My father is of such origin, my mother of another … These subjects are not simple. They touch the deep being. Many famous métis have refused to answer my request probably because of this. The project took years in my spare time to complete and I am very grateful to those who stepped forward in front of my camera.
Can you share with us how some of your subjects live with their “métissage”? Proudly? With difficulty?
Christine Kelly, enthusiastic, was the first person to accept. She writes, “I am very mixed. In my family, we are the fruit of a mixture of Indians, Africans, Vietnamese, metropolitans … I see it as a wealth. When I travel, I know that I am a citizen of the world.”
Pascal Vuong reacted to name calling as a young boy with humor. When his mother explained to him that he was Eurasian, he told his friend that in being “Euro-asian” it meant the place he originated from was comprised of a Europe and an Asia. Later, he enjoyed telling others he was “Charento-Vietnamien”; his mother being born near Angoulême in southwest France.
Others I will not name were hesitant and it took a long time to convince them, through fussy agents. For example, I understood that a well-known TV presenter was having trouble accepting her origins. A major French actress, Isabelle Adjani, who is métis, really liked my work and my approach. She encouraged me but she refused to pose for me. Others accepted only to withdraw at the last moment. It was not easy; I admit it.
France frowns on the idea of ‘multiculturalism’, which it labels ‘communautarisme‘? How do you personally feel about it?
I do not like communitautarisme, it’s the opposite of multiculturalism. Communitautarisme is withdrawal and this is often expressed by the rejection of others because of religious opinions or constraints. I am thinking in particular of equality between men and women. Multiculturalism, however, is something else. First of all, it is an unavoidable reality, and I believe that cultural differences are an asset and a chance for society, provided that multiculturalism goes through the fight against discrimination of all kinds.
The ideal multiculturalism, in my opinion, is the freedom to choose and enjoy the best in each culture. Art, music, literature, architecture, knowledge, social life, etc. Being able to open up to others to learn new languages, to taste other traditions such as culinary arts … There is so much to share and discover.
Your son, Jordan, is featured in your photo essay. Is he comfortable with his biracial background? Are you conscious of his place in French society?
Being mixed for Jordan is not a problem. It reassures me. As he puts it himself:
“Being biracial is not always easy, but I do not care, because it is the others who make this reality more complex.”
As I said before, society is changing, the world is changing and so is France. Jordan will take his place in France or elsewhere!
Do you think French society will evolve as its younger generation interacts and intermarries?
From genetic blending, our culture is mixed. The diversity of influences contributes to the richness of French culture. Globalization is causing border states to disappear. There is, unfortunately, a rise in nationalism and therefore racism, but I remain optimistic despite everything. People travel more than ever; some meet, love each other and start families. Mixed marriages are more and more numerous and I believe that new generations will be more tolerant, smarter, because of their diversity.
I am convinced that the métis person is ahead of his or her time.