The democratic defacement of French political posters

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During France’s presidential election in 2012, Pascal Fellonneau began photographing election posters obsessively. “I had occasionally photographed them before, but when I saw posters everywhere in the runup to the last election, I decided to start a new body of work,” says the 46 year old, who divides his time between Paris and Bordeaux. “I took daily walks looking for bills posted around Paris.” It was both an exercise in portrait photography and a way of documenting French politics.

Rather than deliberately making the politicians into parody by using a wide-angle lens to create distortion, Fellonneau comes in close, framing their faces tightly. Despite this, “they look like caricatures due to they way they have been displayed and intervened upon”.

The posters are often ripped, crinkled or defaced: eyes are occasionally blacked or scratched out, and some of the posters have been covered in paint or have been drawn on. “There is a tradition in France of drawing glasses, moustaches, beards or penises on posters of politicians’ faces. I think it’s a symptom of the mistrust people have of politics. People sometimes ask me if I’ve altered the posters, but they looked like this when I found them.”

The images from Candidates have been published as a book by Milan-based independent publisher BOLO Paper, and although one of the shots was used on the cover of an issue of French newspaper Libération, the work has gained more attention outside of France. “I’ve had quite good reactions from French people, but nothing from the press,” he says. “Photo editors in France don’t want to pay for original material, so they use agency images instead, which they can source for low prices.” Plus ça change…

Find more of Pascal’s work here.

First published in the March 2014 issue. You can buy the issue here.