Photos that capture the red lights of ’70s Paris

Photos that capture the red lights of ’70s Paris
Pigalle People — Out of low-lit bars and into bedrooms, Pigalle People is an ode to Paris’s lost sex-workers through the humanist lens of Jane Evelyn Atwood.

Pigalle is a place of discretion. By design, its network of streets allows for anonymity, but it’s also possible to lose yourself. Historically, the red light district was created to fence-in Parisian society’s less ‘civilised’ activities, yet within its parameters, those who escaped traditional gender roles found a type of caged freedom. For the heavily stigmatised trans community of the ’70s, there was little else to turn.

Jane Evelyn Atwood devoted her early career to capturing those who fall into this category. Often, her subjects were groups discarded by society, who because of their vulnerable position were unable to protect themselves against injustices. Her latest book, Pigalle People (1978 – 79), published 40 years in retrospect, followed the lives of the trans-sex-workers as they navigated the crepuscular world of Pigalle, a dense maze of erotic cabarets, go-go bars and neon-lit strip joints.

Pigalle People introduces a number of colourful characters who brawl with troublemakers, shoot-up, solicit much shorter clients, and link arms walking down cobbled streets, smiling as multiple kisses are bestowed.

JEA-PIGALLE-4-53-5a

Atwood was introduced to this tight-knit circle by Blondine, a sex-worker with whom she was close. “I never thought I would photograph Pigalle, but I had been given that entrée,” she remembers. “It’s a paradox that photography allows you to know people better… I need to know how they do things, how they get up in the morning.”

While Atwood’s documentation couldn’t ignore the unvarnished painful reality of the women’s lives, the photographs depict their defiance and resistance. Dreams and personal histories are all made visible. An approach typical of the photographer, whose reverence and consideration of her subjects, becomes palpable throughout each turn of the page.

JEA-PIGALLE-4-64-28a

Pigalle has always invited tourism. The endless gawking and documentation would often be a source of discomfort for the women soliciting. Although with time, Atwood proved herself trustworthy. “You can’t just barge in and start taking pictures,” she recalls. “It’s not my world, I will always be just a visitor. As a visitor, I had to respect and behave a certain way.”

When AIDS hit Pigalle later, many of those Atwood photographed lost their lives; if not blotted out before, due to drugs or violence.

“It’s really a witnessing,” she explains. “I loved them and I felt privileged to have been allowed in their world. By publishing the book, I’m giving it to other people and saying this is what I lived, this is what it was like. People can draw their own conclusions.”

JEA-PIGALLE-4-46-34a PIGA-couv

Pigalle People is available now.

Follow Ellie Howard on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Latest on Huck

Dide is providing a voice for elite footballers and young people everywhere
Culture

Dide is providing a voice for elite footballers and young people everywhere

No one knows who he is, not even his teammates, but the Premier League’s masked rapper blends cold flow and drill-informed beats to interrogate the world around him.

Written by: Isaac Muk

On the Road with the Free Photographic Omnibus around 1970s Britain

On the Road with the Free Photographic Omnibus around 1970s Britain

Photographer Daniel Meadows took off around the UK in an old bus to capture a unique portrait of a changing nation.

Written by: Miss Rosen

Last week’s election should be a warning to Labour
Activism

Last week’s election should be a warning to Labour

Without delivering real change, really fast, Starmer risks setting the stage for a resurgent far-right argues Green New Deal Rising co-director Fatima Ibrahim

Written by: Fatima Ibrahim

At the Demolition Derby and County Fair in Upstate New York
Photography

At the Demolition Derby and County Fair in Upstate New York

Over the last two decades, photographer team Guzman have attended the fair with cameras in hand to crafting a portrait of community.

Written by: Miss Rosen

Labour have won by a landslide, now it’s time to abolish the Home Office
Activism

Labour have won by a landslide, now it’s time to abolish the Home Office

This new government needs to set out a radical new agenda, not slot obediently into the existing, failed system argues JCWI’s Ravishaan Rahel Muthiah.

Written by: Ravishaan Rahel Muthiah

Vote Progressive and Get Organised!
Election 2024

Vote Progressive and Get Organised!

As the polls open for the general election, we endorse getting the Tories out, progressive candidates in and, most importantly, getting organised to bring about real change.

Written by: Huck

Sign up to our newsletter

Issue 80: The Ziwe issue

Buy it now