Modern Life

Respectful, real and engrossing: Modern Life in rural France.

It’s the faces that stick in the memory. The brothers in their eighties – one all day in the hills with the sheep, the other with the cows. The tiny framed man with grey tangled hair, two-feet long, whose face is a spider-web of lines. The open-faced woman who hardly ever speaks but continually nods and smiles.

Most are unfamiliar and striking – they’re not faces you see in the streets of Western towns and cities. They seem to be pre-industrial but they’re the faces of our contemporaries – the faces of small farmers from the Haut-Garonne in France. Depardon has been a documentary photographer and film maker for over 40 years and a member of Magnum for 30. He himself came from such a farm and this is the third of his Profils Paysans (Peasants’ Portraits).

Very wide shots show people in their rugged landscape; long shots the texture of their lives – a muddy icy yard, an old clock, a tablecloth. An old woman dies, an old man speaks with no front, but seems to carry a terrible hurt and disappointment. We hear their stories, learn about their values. It’s neither postcard lyricism nor miserabilism – just respectful, real and engrossing.


mag cover This article is from the April 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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