09 May 2012

Les Amies de Place Blanche

Place Blanche in Paris is perhaps best known as the site of Le Moulin Rouge, where the can-can dance is said to have originated, at least in its present form.

Not so long ago, it was also--along with nearby Place Pigalle--part of the City of Light's red light district.   Blanche in particular was known for its transgendered prostitutes.  Most were working to save money for gender reassignment surgery.   However, they had as much of a chance of ending up in the bowels of La Sante as in George Burou's basement.  In the conservative atmosphere of Charles deGaulle's France, they were routinely arrested--and, as often as not, beaten and otherwise abused by the police--for the offense of being, according to the law of that time, les hommes habilles en femme en dehors du carneval.

In that milieu, Christer Stromholm did something that was almost as risky as living as one of those trans women:  He befriended tem.  However, he wasn't a social worker or miisionary.  He was a photographer, born in Stockholm, who moved to the Blanche district around the time de Gaulle returned to power and formed le Cinquieme Republique.  Stromholm stayed in Blanche for a decade and took some remarkable photographs, which will be on display at the International Center of Photography starting on 18 May.  I probably don't have to tell you that I plan to attend.

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