Brahm is an American photographer, recently based in Paris, making images of people, places, and life in various combinations. He went to college and ended up with a Ph.D. in engineering. Afterwards, he did cool things with technology to solve problems and explore the world. Then he picked up a camera and now he does cool things with photography to explore the world. He still solves problems. He also cooks, mixes drinks and makes stuff.
France embraced hip-hop wholeheartedly soon after its introduction in America three decades ago. While the two forms of hip-hop share a common heritage French hip-hop is uniquely its own language. Dance is central to the hip-hop culture and Centquatre (104 in French) is “an artistic and cultural” space where the dancers– amateur, semi-professional and professional– have formed a community to practice, battle and have fun.
Centquatre also provides space for residencies, production, and performance for artists from all over the world, and the majority of the work at the center is made by professional artists. The focus of this project however is on the amateurs, the every day people, who come to Centquatre and use the space to practice and socialize. Almost every day dancers, acrobats, actors, gymnasts, musicians, jugglers and others come to the center to get together and work on their craft/art. These photos focus primarily on the community of dancers who are mostly young, mostly amateurs or semi-professionals, and mostly hip-hop. These young dancers thrive here and spend hours working alone, in groups, or join the occasional dance battle to just have fun or get ready for dance competitions throughout France and Europe. I photograph these people in their environment to try and see where they are, where they have been and where they want to go.
Please enjoy watching this video of Brahm and his work. Hope you will be inspired as much I was.
Carol Porter is a painter. She was born in Washington, D.C. She retired in 2008 from The Washington Post as a designer who laid out pages for many sections of the news department. Her fine art passion is watercolor painting. She was recently studying art for 2 weeks in Paris, plein air painting at Paris College of Art. Below is one of my favorites ...
In Carol’s words, “Since I am an African American woman, I have a strong sense of the necessity of world class exhibition of my culture and my art … I wish to present the long overdue presentation in a positive manner.” Hopefully, more of her recent works of Paris will be highlighted in future blog posts.
Carol is also a program volunteer for the new Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. (NMAAHC.si.edu.) “When I am at the museum, I feel a sense of pride and serenity about myself. I discover more about the history of my people, where I am happy to learn and share with others. There has always been so much art and design within the African American community.”
Calyn Pickens Rich, is currently studying Art History at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was born, raised and educated in Paris. It has been explained to me by Calyn and her Mom that she is (also) an Afrogoth comix. But as you all know, I see things. And I can say Calyn is beyond talented! You would be advised to follow her career because she got IT! She is also an incredibly sweet young woman. Read what Calyn wrote to me:
Edited by Michelle Phillips Fay
Thank you so much for holding that salon.
It was a pleasure and privilege to see such intense minds come together.
Here is my bio below.
Calyn Pickens Rich (aka ‘Dr. Calyn’) is the creator and ‘mad doctor’ behind Dill comics, a comic about a kid with existential issues and a lemon stand, as well as Dining with Dana, a blog that represents the underrepresented in alternative subculture and Pwatt Institute, which chronicles life at Pratt.
African American and born and raised in Paris, she is now pursuing a degree in ‘Pseudo-Science and Technically-It’s-Art’ at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Backtracking to before-then, she attended École 42, a programming school where she created Born 2 Crash, a series of illustrations on coding through comics.
She also writes for Afropunk, For Harriet, Black Girl Nerds and others. Her work was additionally part of a collective expo at gallerie Arludik, Paris, in 2013 and is now in the permanent collection of founder Vashti Dubois’ The Colored Girls Museum in Philadelphia. She participates in and supports conventions such as Regine Sawyer’s Women in Comics, Maia Crown Williams’ Black Speculative Arts Movement and Hilton George’s Blerdcon. Calyn’s family was featured in ‘Is Paris Still a Haven for Black Americans?’ for the inaugural edition of the Smithsonian Magazine.
Scholar Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, author of Black Women in Sequence, is currently publishing a comix anthology which includes a study on her work.
Calyn can be found on Patreon and Instagram.
You will not know hard it was and still is for me to say premier in French. Those of you who watched my video, I practiced my speech for months, but putting the salon together came quickly and organically.
What is a salon? Besides an elegant space, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “it is a fashionable assemblage of notables (such as literary figures, artists or statesmen) held by custom at the home of a prominent person.” Who knew my guests are prominent people? Now I know and that is how I treat them.
Judy, one of the guests said we should have a theme trip to Paris; other smarter friends have suggested themes for PS&B. Once Judy came up with the theme: “Art and Activism”, I ran with it.
Bringing people together for an exchange of ideas was a joy to create. I knew the space. I knew how to set the table. I knew what I wanted to serve for dinner. Chicken of course, but with crusty French bread; salad; fruit; cheese; dessert; and beaucoup de vin (wine) – namely Rosé due to the global warming heat of Paris.
I worked with Carole in Paris. She is more than a tour guide for PS&B; she has become my friend to whom I can tell her what I had envisioned. Carole listened to my dreams; she told me her thoughts. We talked for hours on several occasions. WHAT SYNERGY! We invited 3 artists and 3 activists. Some showed up; some did not; and others appeared. What a wonderful evening!
Carole wrote: “Thank-you, David, for giving us the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Paulette Nerdal and Suzanne Césaire who held salons for African authors, scientists, artists coming from the Americas, Europe and Africa. So many black creators would spend their Sundays in the apartments of these wonderful women.”
As you know, I tried to speak in French. Carole moderated. Her spirit led the conversations about art and activism. My request was that we start with the heavy topics first. Take a break for food. And drink during the art presentations. Everyone could speak uninterrupted for 15 minutes followed by questions.
Rosita Destival spoke about Reparations. Sounds familiar. She is a member of Mouvement International Pour Les Reparations (MIR) – an organization suing the French government for injustice to slaves in former colonies. Her family is from Martinique. Through her genealogical research, she found a document concerning one of her ancestors. He not only bought his freedom but his two brothers’ freedom. That was one powerful man. That IS some history, and she shared herstory with the guests.
Mahamadou Lamine Sagna, a former PhD. Student of Dr. Cornel West, wrote a book. He worked with Cornell West for 15 years. Lamine also taught at Princeton University for 11 years. Recently, I learned he is Senegalese but was born in Mali. I remembered that boundaries are sometimes meaningless at times when it comes to African ethnicities and/or cultures. If it was not for Dr. Maria Cole … as the say goes: It’s not what you know, but who you know … nonetheless, I was told to write a personal letter of introduction to him requesting his presence. We do things a certain around PS&B. He accepted my “kind” invitation -- his words not mine.
Lamine’s book is written in French and entitled: “Voilences, Racisme, et Religions en Amérique – Cornel West, Une Pensée Rebelle”. You can make out the title in English but I wonder what the English title will be when it is published this Fall.
Lamine compared Dr. West to a musician. Interesting analogy. In Carole’s words: “ He drew us a wonderful portrait of him, an independent voice in the US, who is not afraid to always tell the truth. Through this portrait and relaying on the “natural” rhythm in black music in the US, Africa, etc. Lamine analyzed the experience of time or countertime which gives us a phenomenal grid to understand and free ourselves from the structural and ideological violence of our societies today”. Honestly, I missed all that. It must have been the wine; the heat; I was tried; or who knows what? Someone has to fill me in or tell me all about what he said, but Lamine invited us to his talk at the coolest space on the Left Bank called Grand Voisins (GREAT NEIGHBORS) -- an abandoned hospital where 350 artists and 300 homeless create COMMUNITY. A utopian of sorts with a pottery barn; garden nursery; artist studios; audiovisual rooms and studio; a thrift shop; and a café –it’s France after all.
T.B.C. ( to be continued) …. each artist who spoke at the Salon will be highlighted in future posts.
For those you who don't know, sometimes I'm a mannequin shopper. I don't need another t-shirt and swimming trunks in pink of all colors but I learned: 1. Don't be afraid to do things differently; 2. Follow your dreams, include new career paths and options. 3. It's always good to do things you love, even if other people question your intentions; 4. Be open to meet new people who don't look like you; 5. Listen carefully, you learn more than expected, especially from our youth; 6. Follow advice from friends who truly love you; 7. Don't go shopping when upset, you will pay later; and 8. I don't need to pack as many shirts; pants and shoes (See 7). 9. And you will loose something -- this time I left my adapter behind in Antibes ...
SUNDAYS IN PARIS.
As I wrote in a blog entry re PICKPOCKETERS, after travelling around France, I wanted to spend my last day in Paris before heading home to be on a Sunday. I LOVE Sundays.
Sundays are my favorite day of the week. My Mother cooked pancakes or French toast. Sometimes waffles. I willingly would go to church to see my friends with whom I went to parochial school. I would have to go on treasure hunts to find the New York Times in certain neighborhoods of Queens, “David, don’t come back without the Times,” so my Mother could read it in the afternoon. She cooked pot roast, baked or roasted chicken, spareribs, Rice-A-Roni, sweet potatoes, and lumpy mashed potatoes. When my Dad got high seniority on his job and would be home on Sundays, we watched football with dinner squeezed in before you heard that tick tock of CBS’s “60 Minutes”. With that ritual of sorts, my life was set for the upcoming week.
As an adult, I have followed suit and that ritual has become my personal tradition. I read the Times online in bed. Waffles before church. I may add in season tickets to the National Team or listen to jazz. I may practice yoga. I definitely cook that meal and watch “60 Minutes”. But when I am in Paris, I let things free fall.
Three trips ago, the first group of PS&B may disagree. We ate breakfast. We headed to the Flea Markets at Cliquancourt on the Right Bank. We meandered around the antiques. I love Claire’s store where she sells modern art. Every time I go to her shop she feeds me wine, even if I skipped breakfast. We commune. The artists usually drop by and chat up any potential buyers. We catch up. Churchlike. We drink more before 11 AM. I love smelling her cigarettes since I don’t smoke anymore.
At the flea market, the group and I went to a quaint French bistro where there is singer who belted out Edith Piaf’s song. The food was mediocre but the wine washed it down. It is a place full of charm and atmosphere. It is a place where you imagine what Paris is and was. Accordian music. Sing-a-longs. Characters for waiters. My rabbit was cold but the mustard sauce was tasty.
Then I dragged them to see Congolese Art at the Cartier Foundation on the Left Bank. Awesome building. Great natural gardens. Beautiful artwork. Listening music stations where you wanted to dance. Beautiful Africans and other people of Color congregated. Churchlike, and I got the music.
It was not divinely planned but the time before I went on this trip with the first group, I read about the Montmartre Wine Festival on the Right Bank. So I planned the tour during that week so we could enjoy the Festival – there is one or two vineyards up there. And a windmill. Montmartre is my favorite place in Paris. Sacre Coeur sits above the City. It is a climb. An urban upward hike. There is a funicular. Touristy as HECK and pickpocketers. And on the bottom of the hill, the area is seedy. But the winding streets with the independent stores, along with chain retail stores which are creeping slowly in … gentrification has come like it did in the Marais. Fabric Stores. Great restaurants. And the artist painting portraits or landscapes on the courtyard. Montmarte is magical but on that weekend, there were of throngs people for the Wine Festival. Finding everyone in the group was like herding cats. Wine galore. Food galore. Mussels oysters and escargots everywhere. Meats. Cookies. Chocolats and candy. Food and Wine covered.
“Why did we go from the Right to Left and then back to the Right Bank?’ Because, the flea market was best seen in the AM; the museum closed at 6; and the Wine Festival went on all day and all night.
Before we descended Montmartre, we waited for the Eiffel Tour to flash its lights.
My kind of Sunday!
The last group had a lot of young people. There were tree people under the age of 25 years old. I hired a young tour guide. Long story made longer, on my last bushiness trip to Paris in March, I ran into this awesome young man in the Marais. His name is Egan.
It started to rain, and I ran into Sandro, one of my favorite stores. Sandro designs both men’s and women’s clothes. Very clean classics line with interesting details. Imagine Polo and Club Monaco mixed together in basic elegance with French simplicity. Egan worked there before traveling to California and starting school in marketing and advertising. He and his manager could sell ice to Alaskans (PC). Needless to say, I bought too many things. One of the items, they did not have my size in stock but they mailed it to me in the States. They are that good.
I was in the store for hours. While I was trying on different jeans, Egan asked me how I was enjoying Paris. I told him I started a travel business to Paris. Concierge tours. Customized walking tours. Outings to cool and different events. He was interested in what I was doing. I asked his manager and him if they were interested in working with PS&B. Egan said yes. Once he got back home from visiting California, he sent me a list of his favorite places in Paris. It was EXHAUSTIVE. I called him and asked him whether he would like to conduct a walking tour in his favorite arrondissement. He said yes. He loves the Bastille and the Marais. Egan gave me his school schedule, and we worked him into the activities which were already planned for the last group.
On Friday afternoon at 4 PM, we met at the Place de la République – the Union Square [NY] of Paris. I was surprised that two out of the three young people did not show up for the tour; they had college papers due. So, out of a group of seven people, only three people showed up. The only young person was my niece. The parents of one of the young adults wanted to go. The husband had this quizzical look on his face. Initially I intended not to tag along, but seeing that some folks bailed out, I had to go.
What a great time we had! We walked from the République and meandered until we were in the Marais. Egan asked everyone in the group what they would like to see. My niece wanted to go to consignment and vintage shopping. Another guest wanted to do the same. Since I was in the group, I wanted to go to chocolate, macaroon, ice cream, and pastry shops.
We walked past a store that sells tables and chairs for cafes. Egan took us to his favorite store. Merci is a concept store – a little of this and that mainly known for selling Merci bracelets, and the store sells clothes for men and women; books; houses; and there is a café. Very cool store with an original red Mini car parked in the courtyard before the store’s entrance. I was surprised the ladies did not stay longer.
We strolled past a book store where Josephine Baker posters were hanging in the windows. Josephine Baker books were on display. Egan took us to a market where I insisted everyone try some Moroccan tea. It took longer than expected, but we meet the nicest man who either owns or works the stall. There were some great food selections and he asked for us to come and try the food. Most of the dishes were gone, so it had to be tasty. We copped a squat at the tables. Breaks are good for the mind and body, especially for the feet. Earlier that day, the guests went to the Catacombs and climbed a lot of steps.
With piping hot tea in hand, we walked through the alleys and saw great graffiti art. We looked at a lovely apartment building with ivy growing on the side; the ivy’s leaves were turning red. We also saw a medieval building with turrets and learned it converted into a public library. My niece learned the words for library and bookstore in French. We wondered who lived there over the years.
A guest Googled on her phone a famous consignment shop. Everyone agreed to walk in that direction and see if it was open. We went into three more vintage clothing stores. Tina, my niece, found a fox collar for 1O Euros (approximately $15 USD); she was over the moon. Another thrift shop sold clothes by the kilo – too junky for me. As I stood outside waiting for them, I bumped into a colleague and his friend coming out of a bar. They wanted to know what I was doing in Paris. I told them “I started this new travel business called Paris Soul and Beyond, and I hired this guide and we are on a walking tour of Marais.” We exchanged numbers so we could meet the next day.
Egan walked us through a major department store because I needed a new wallet. I could not decide on a color. Already, my niece told me I was flaky so I did not want to hear the truth again because I am so indecisive when it comes to clothes for myself. We quickly left; the same store had three more branches. There was one just for dogs and cats. We oohed and aahed. One of the guests has a cat she loves and adores. We took pictures. We laughed.
And we walked and walked until we found the famous vintage clothing store. It had just CLOSED. My niece and Leah gawked in the windows like it was Christmas in October. The joy I got those few moments when they were peering into the window looking at vintage LV, Halston, and Channel was priceless.
And to top all that off, the store was located in the portico next to the courtyard and gardens of the Palais Royal. The courtyard has black and white fixtures and it is always featured in design and fashion magazines. I begged my niece to take my picture. I love talking photos but I don’t like pictures taken of me. I sat there and people watched: of course, people were smoking, it is France after all; and young boys were playing a game of soccer where kings and queens regaled other royals. We took another break to watch all these activities unfold.
Egan suggested that we walk to the Place de la Concorde. It was almost 7:30 PM. It was dark and getting cold. We walked past a patisserie. I was starving. I love eclairs. OH MY GOODNESS. I urged everyone to eat. My niece was game; she loves trying new foods. Leah said OK and she could not believe how good it was that she made her husband buy one.
At the Place de la Concorde I wanted my niece to see the Eiffel Tower lit up. But I wanted everyone to see the Tower flash its lights. We took only ONE picture as a group. Next time, more group photos. We took another break and sat under the obelisk.
Breaks were good. We talked. I found out more about Egan; he is Irish and Swiss. His Dad is a musician but had to support the family by becoming an English teacher. Egan wants to immigrate to America. 10 minutes later the lights on the Eiffel Tower danced as I wished. Happy niece, happy life. Happy guests, successful PS&B.
Back HOME for two weeks, and I want to go back to Paris toute suite (immediately). Not going to happen any time soon, but I am working on my next group. SPRING in Paris. Can not wait!
The last trip was FUN! In particular, the group LOVED Versailles. Most of my clients were first timers to Paris, so, I found myself in very touristy areas. Can you believe on two occasions, I was almost pickpocketed? MOI, I have traveled the world, and two different men had the nerve to TRY me. Forgive the vernacular.
The FIRST incident happened when my guests and I went to the Apple Store near the Opera Garnier. We just saw a wonderful modern ballet dance performance. Believe it or not, many stores are not open in Paris on a Sunday. But that Apple Paris store was open. My French is not that good to locate a MacBook Air adapter. I am supposed to working, -- writing and blogging from Paris. And my computer was dead. I thought my niece inadvertently picked up my adapter. So off we went with Google maps on my iPhone. The Apple store was just around the corner from where we just saw the performance. “Adapters are with accessories,” Downstairs, we all went. I looked everywhere for it. Could not find it. TONS of people milling around. Two Apple employees. Two long lines: one for purchases and the other for repairs.
I asked Maria, one of the guests, to stand on one line as I stood on the other. A woman behind asked me a question in French, then she spoke in English. “This line is for purchases not for questions.” In disgust, I got off the line, and I eyed a man who noticed my frustration; immediately, he proceeded in my direction and bumped into me. “Are you kidding me?” I yelled out. Luckily, I put my wallet in my front right pants pocket and change in my left front pants pocket along with my iPhone. My left rear pants pocket had metro tickets. My Passport is usually locked away at the apartment. As usual, I had on my multi-functional Burberry coat that has a hood and a million pockets which close with buttons or zippers. Sometimes, I have difficulty remembering what I put in each pocket. In any event, he was not going to get a thing off of me. Long story, I begged for assistance, I was told there was a line but I insisted – I became a little American and micro-aggressive – “I was almost pickpocketed. Can you answer a question? Then I will get on one of these two long lines.” Under my breath, I mumbled, “I can not believe there are DEUX employees.” By this time, my guests found a bench and were seated against the wall in this beautiful vaulted basement with tiles from Napoleon’s time. At this point, I did not care about the cultural significance of the architecture. I needed an adapter in order to work. Let me be truthful: I did not write one thing or post one picture from this computer while I was in France. Lesson learned! Always keep your stuff together so when you look for something, everything is there. Where was my American adapter? Answer: at the bottom of my knapsack. According to Maria, my friend and future assistant, I have a European adapter for all my future trips. Sometimes, you need a good friend to help you find the silver lining.
The SECOND incident occurred where of all places: a Montparnasse hotel check-in desk in the 14th arrondissement. After a week of scouting new locations in Biarritz and Bordeaux, I decided that I would like to spend Sunday -- our last day in Paris. I invited all my friends who live in Paris to spend the day together. Another friend was flying into Paris to promote her film and promote her business. I also wanted to experience staying in an area where Josephine Baker hung out and performed. Instead of dragging our bags from the train station to the hotel, Maria and I hopped into a cab and literally went around the corner to be told that we would have to wait 2 hours before our room would be ready. We dropped off our luggage and off we went to eat. We strolled around looking for a bank and went to an outdoor art market. Luckily, we followed the front desk person’s restaurant recommendation. I ordered stuffed cabbage and the cheesiest mashed potatoes. Maria had duck again. Such French comfort food. Something your grandmother would cook for a Sunday meal.
Maria and I walked back to the hotel. The rain had cleared. The sky was beautiful. Perfect temperature. We entered the lobby. The lobby was on two levels. The elevators were on the lower level and the reception desk was up two or three steps. Two women guests were in the process of checking in, and another receptionist helped me. Two minutes did not pass before there was a man joined at my hip like a Siamese twin. “Hold up … excuse me”, I called out. I had my wallet and iPhone in left hand; my passport was inside my tweed jacket. The receptionist started speaking to him, “Can I help you?” which was odd because most Europeans wait for their turn. By this time, I stepped back, turned around and sized him up. In seconds, I was ready to identify him. He was in his 50’s; olive skin; receding hairline; chubby; white shirt; beige pants; black belt; and black shoes. And on the lower level of the lobby behind him were a younger woman in her 30’s pushing a baby in a fold up pink stroller. By this time, I already checked my pockets. Then I looked at her and him, but not the baby, in disgust. He said, “Do you have any rooms available for one night?” I did not verbally respond. After he left, I told everyone at the desk, he tried to pick my pocket. But since I had almost everything in my hands, I was good. Luckily, he was too old to snatch and grab my possessions. Lessons learned: 1. when you least expect or suspect somebody will pickpocket you, then is the time to be vigilant. 2. Go for a walk, get something to eat or drink before checking into a hotel. Pickpocketers know that tourists are usually sleepy, cranky, hungry or thirsty, especially after waiting for hours for their hotel rooms to be ready after a long transatlantic flight. Another reason to travel with PS&B: apartment living is more authentic, and you experience how a Parisian truly lives. AND it is SAFER! I will be there to greet you upon your arrival to make sure there will be no mishaps.