Les Visages des Puces
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About

Les Visages des Puces is a portrait documentary series on the flea market of Saint-Ouen (Paris, France)
Published:
Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, located in the suburbs of Paris, is the biggest and one of the oldest flea markets in the world. It is said, that the expression “flea market” itself originates from here. It is a conglomerate of 14 smaller markets, each with its own features and speciality. It is a part of the cultural and historical heritage of France and a place of great touristic interest. Most importantly, it is a sophisticated social organism, a vast community of people who are passionate about their very special craft.
 
The goal of this project is to document the look and the spirit of the place in showing its face and soul. To show incredible diversity of its parts, which are merging together in one entity, while remaining the separate worlds.
 
This series portrays the people of The Market. Those, who live and work there, who actually create, preserve and change the place throughout its years and decades.
Lily
Specialisation: art deco
On the market for a long time
Previous occupation: secretary
 
“When I started antiquities were fashionable, they were in great demand, but it’s also by interest, by passion for antiquities that I started the job. My grandfather was already a collector.”
François-Michel
Specialisation: unbridled decoration
On the market for a dozen of years
Previous occupation: interior designer; designer for large brands and for Middle-East princes
 
“I have a sixth sense: I’ll be doing nothing, hanging out at my place, then suddenly I dress up, go out, drive for 50 kilometers and then I find an object. And each time I don’t know how it happens. It is as if the objects are waiting for me to give them a second life. An old object to which I give a makeover, has a new patina, shape and destination. That is my passion: to buy an object, to store it and then to understand it. An item may stay for 3-4 months at my place. Some may stay untouched for years. And then, one morning, I wake up and I have an insight! I know how to finish this lamp, how to show it! That’s the beauty of it!”
Antoine
Specialisation: industrial style objects
On the market for 8 years
Previous occupation: teacher, sculptor
 
“My mother together with Gilles Oudin started the fashion for industrial style. They took objects that were ignored and made them popular. All the industrial lighting: lampe Gras, Jielde lamps etc. They made popular metallic workshop chairs, which people had not even noticed before.
 
Industrial objects have traces of time on them, traces of being used. You can see effects of time on their surface.”
Alain
Specialisation: cabinet de curiosité
On the market for 40 years
Previous occupation: engineer
 
“If it is clever, it can be sold, if it is stupid, it stays. An object which was manufactured in millions of copies, every concierge in every house has one of these, there is no interest in it. Only an object that arouses curiosity and catches the eye is what I call a ‘clever object’.”
Henri
Specialisation: carnivals, old toys
On the market for 39 years
Previous occupation: military service in Africa; real estate broker
 
“I have a carousel horse, which is made of 70 pieces of different wood. I have horses made by German, French and English people... There is a story. I sold horses to a 80 year old woman. They reminded her of the time when she was a little girl, and was riding wooden horses. And she said: “before I die, I want my horse”. You see, these are very emotional goods. Plastic objects may be good, but they are not the best. Plastic is not meant to last. We throw it away more often.”
Michel
Specialization: industrial furniture, curiosities
On the market for 15 years
Previous occupation: salesman

“The horse you see over there, has been used by the saddlers, who were selling the equipment for horseback riding. And, among other things, I think, it was used for carriage displays.”
Mathias
Specialisation: balance between demand and personal taste
On the market for 1,5 years
Previous occupation: studies in law, sales and marketing; advertising company; store manager
 
“I’ve been exposing panoramic photos in France for 15 years. These are only original prints. It’s a side activity I’ve always been doing.
 
Panoramic photography of the beginning-middle of 20th century is a great rarity here in the market. Eugène Goldbeck, Ray Clemence, Fred Schutz,  have left an important legacy, hundreds of thousands of pictures. among which photographs of groups of people, landscapes, and people working.
 
When I bring these photographs to a professional photography show, it’s not necessary to add a frame. People don’t want frames there. In the world of photography, a photo is to be touched, to be looked at, to be felt. A frame brings you further from it. But here, if I expose my photographs without frames, no-one will be interested in them. You see? Two very different worlds.”
Michel
Specialisation: suede and painted furniture
On the market for 15 years
Previous occupation: aviation engines fitter
 
“Accounting is the worst. It’s never fun. We love being on the field doing our job, the rest is unnecessary pain.
 
What we are trying to buy is objects which are initially Dutch, but can at the same time  agood fit  with French furniture. The legs are close to Louis XV style, as well as the shape of the doors, so you can mix it with French furniture.”
 
Edward
Specialisation: african art, photographs of Louis Stettner
On the market for 52 years
Previous occupation: none
 
“It seems to me that nowadays very few people are interested. There is a lack of interest, and curiosity for non-classical, uncommon objects. That is really sad for the flea market. What should drive people to the flea market is the unexpected, and be surprised by an object.”
 
Michel
Specialization: drawers and travelling-oriented furniture combinations from 1850s-1930s
On the market for 32 years
Previous occupation: classical education in ancient languages; jurist
 
“The clients have changed a lot. All those people, who liked to show off a bit, who enjoyed original things, they have all disappeared. Because of the crisis, probably. And the taste has changed too. You see, the people have changed. 25 years ago my customers were 60 years old... they are not here anymore. I believe that 25 years ago people had a better education. There is no similar passion or joy of living anymore, there are no more people who were discovering objects with excitement. Nowadays, people are a bit blasé. In my opinion, it is because of nowadays fashion, because of the crisis in Europe.”
 
Simone
Spécialisation: XIX century paintings and furniture
On the market for 4 years
Previous ocuppations: literature studies; teacher
 
“I love history. It is through history that I got involved with old things. But it is not only that, it is also individuals life history. My parents always had old furniture.
 
There are always objects that will disappear, for instance silverware. Silver is beautiful but you need to maintain it. Before all families had silver, or at least plated silver, forks, spoons etc.... this is now over.”
 
Paul
Specialization: brasilian furniture from 50s and 60s
On the market exactly 1 year
Previous occupations: law studies; music; consultant in luxury and fashion
 
“Luxury goods markets are never in crisis. Hermes has 30% growth each year. The larger luxury brands never sold that much. Ferrari never sold that many cars. And I am in this segment. It is not that I am not suffering the crisis, but there are still people who have money. And, after all, it is a matter of being smart. It is when you are able to offer outstanding objects, that nobody else has. People who know design, they have seen a lot. And I show them something that they have never seen. I provoke their interest.”
Marie
Specialisation: shabby chic
On the market for 7 years
Previous occupation: education in pharmaceutics; laborant
 
“Mr Partout (Mr Everywhere; the name of the stuffed albatross), I don’t sell it. A friend of mine owned it. When I saw it in his house, I fell in love. I preferred to fall in love with a bird rather than with a man. He is almost 100 years old! Look at the work of taxidermist, the way he put iron wires to support the wings. Nobody works like this anymore. This albatross is my friend. I can talk to him and he never answers me. Moreover, when he looks at me, he smiles every time.”
Franck & Louise
Specialisation: XX century
On the market for 15 years
Previous occupation: Louise: singer, musical instruments saleswoman; Franck: antique dealer
 
“We are searching for objects together, it takes the most of our week. We work on the selection, mostly curiosities, uncommon items. The fashion today is to look for signed objects, but we are not purely focused on that.”
 
Grace
Specialisation: mix of everything
On the market for 5 years
Previous occupation: studies in interior decoration, painting and sculpture in Seoul and Paris; freelance photographer
 
“Everything is ephemeral. We won’t be here forever, we will turn into ashes. It’s not only about buying objects. When we go travelling to look for objects, we can think about many things. What is life truly about? You can ask yourself lots of questions. People want to buy everything, to possess objects. But does it really have a point? We all end up being nothing.”
 
The making of
Les Visage des Puces. A portrait documentary on the flea market of Saint-Ouen
 
 
Photographer: Andrew Kovalev (http://ckovalev.com/)