Seven years ago, on the 4th January 2014 to be precise, I was assaulted.
At that time, I was working on a photographic series for which I was taking pictures of myself each day, in order to create a real-fake daily life.
On 4 January 2014, I wasn’t really inspired. During some shopping, I had taken a photograph that wasn’t really good. So I thought I’d take another picture on my way home.
And that’s what I did.
On the way home, I felt, deep down, that something was wrong.
I saw someone on the opposite side of the road who was a bit “strange”.
So I quickly put my camera back in my bag and started walking.
Well… unfortunately not for long: the person on the opposite pavement had crossed the road and was standing in front of me.
He then asked me to give him my camera. I said no. I said it without really thinking.
This person was blocking my way. I couldn’t keep on walking, I was stuck.
I was more than petrified, I tried to scream but only inaudible sounds could come out of my mouth. One of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life. People always think this only happens in movies, but it also happens in real life.
Without knowing why, I pushed this person.
He barely took a step back, certainly because I’m really not a strong person. Then, angry at me because of what I had just done, he punched me in the face. It almost knocked me out for a few seconds.
But I managed to run away.
It happened seven years ago, but telling you about this assault makes me uncomfortable. This is even the second time I’ve written this article.
Yet, just after it happened, I thought I could stop thinking about it. That it would be a bad memory that would gradually fade away.
Besides, for some people, it wasn’t a serious assault.
I don’t think anyone should judge that.
All assaults are serious and traumatic.
And I wouldn’t wish anyone to feel what I felt at that time.
So you understand the reason I decided to write about this is because its memory has always been in the back of my mind.
It has had an impact on many things in my personal life, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
In fact, what I want to say is that this assault has also had an impact on my work.
I’ve always been a suspicious person. My parents always told me to be wary because there are bad people everywhere. I was raised with that thought in my mind.
And this assault made me even more suspicious.
I’ve been the victim of street harassment dozens of times. I am often afraid when I go home alone at night. Especially when I hear very scary things from some guys.
But here I’m talking a different kind of mistrust.
The assault I lived was linked to a theft: the person wanted to steal my camera. And for the last seven years, whenever I walk around with my camera or my computer in my bag, I am afraid.
For example, a few months ago, I took some photos of a musician at the beach. To avoid the influx of people, we had decided to go there very, very early in the morning. So I had to meet him somewhere.
And just the thought of having to walk the streets with my camera in my bag, and knowing that I could run into anyone (with very few witnesses since it was very early in the morning), made me anxious for a few days.
I know this is a completely irrational fear as I never use a camera bag. And therefore, nobody would normally know that I have (or don’t have) valuables in my bag. But I’m always scared, I can’t help it.
Besides, last year I bought a Fujifilm camera. Of course, I bought it because I knew its potential, but I was also very happy to have a very small camera. And every time I use it, I think how happy I am to have a camera that I can easily put in my handbag without anyone knowing.
Can you see how stupid my thoughts are?
And this mistrust is also present during the photoshoot.
To tell you the truth, the fact that I was assaulted while working on a series where I had to photograph myself every day, made me doubt this work. It completely upset me. For a few days, I didn’t want to continue because I was really confused and I knew that what I’d just experienced was going to limit me. In the end, I continued this series for a few months more but I always took into account what had happened: I was always careful where I took my camera. I thought about it in advance, and when I wanted to make images outside, I did them as quickly as possible.
And seven years later, if I have to take pictures outside, I am still very suspicious. Even when I take photographs of a model, as soon as someone comes near us, I can’t help but keep an eye on them.
Even though I would obviously be very upset if someone stole my stuff (I definitely can’t afford a new camera or a new computer !),
it’s mostly the idea of reliving an assault that makes me so anxious. The idea of feeling trapped again.
Mistrust and control have become a huge part of my life when all I wanted to do was ignore the assault.
When I think about it, I know that this guy broke a part of me.
Sometimes I think that the assault isn’t the worst part, the worst is what it has definitely changed in my life.
In my last article, about my artistic favourites of 2020, I talked about Elsa Bleda’s superb night images. I’ve wanted to take photos at night for years, but with the world we live in, I’ve never dared to do so. And when I see her work, I find it beautiful but also very brave.
When writing this article, I realised that this assault had also impacted on my work in a ‘good’ way, but it took me longer to explain why.
When I was assaulted, some people immediately suggested that I exploit what I had experienced. I’ve already mentioned this in a previous article. When it happened, I didn’t want to do anything with it because all I wanted to do was move on at any cost. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.
But in the end, I’ve never been able to forget it. And a few years later, while he continued to haunt me regularly, I chose to work with and on him.
I wouldn’t say that this work has been therapeutic. It doesn’t prevent me from being afraid. But it has allowed me to push my limits in my work.
Of course, I wish this assault had never happened to me.
I would have preferred to live forever without knowing what it feels to be attacked and trapped.
But instead of always being haunted by it, I’m glad I was able to use something that hurt me to do something that made me feel good.
My work is very much about appearances, about the idea of manipulating them. So there’s a lot of fiction in it, but when I talk about my aggression (even in the form of fiction), it allows me to take a step forward. To create the most personal work I’ve ever done.
I‘ll never be able to erase what happened, but I’ve been able to use it to move forward.
But I don’t want to talk about it constantly in my work.
Of course it’s part of it, as it’s part of me, and my life, but that’s all.
I have to move on (and it takes a lot of work (and a lot of time) to do so) because I think the trap is to be drawn into the traumatic events you have experienced and to constantly refer to them.
It depends on each of us, but I think it’s not good to spend time rehashing these events over and over again.
We need to move on, even if it takes time.