Book Review: At Their Home, Marseille
By Labanya Maitra
The beauty of Marseille isn’t the city itself, the beauty of Marseille lies in the fleeting interactions between its people. Unknown to the subjects of the photographs, John Mack immortalizes them in his book At Their Home: Marseille.
The foreward to the book, written by Alain Moreau, speaks of the city’s vibrant history. The culture and diversity of Marseille is written like poetry where the Marseillais people are almost deified into Greek epics.
The photographs, on the other hand, make you pause while you’re flipping through; the longer you stare, the more details emerge. Unaware of the camera’s gaze, everyday Marseillais go about their day, while their beautiful little interactions remain the subject of Mack’s attention. The black and white photographs hero certain parts of the image and hide others. It’s clear where the photographer wants your gaze to fall first, but there’s also the wonder of discovery as you find detail after detail, hidden in the shadows.
There’s a photo of a man’s back standing in front of a McDonald’s as a woman embraces him. The only thing you see of her are her arms wrapped around his neck, and nothing else. There’s an odd beauty in how the precious moment is frozen; it’s indirect, allowing the reader to interpret it as they want.
All the photographs capture interactions, but not all are interactions among people. Two men stand at a busy street crossing next to a large advertisement of a woman modeling underwear. One seems to be unlocking his car while the other crouches down to talk of his phone, but the way the photograph is framed makes their interaction not with each other, but with her.
The book is full of juxtapositions. Women in burkhas with men in shorts, people on the move with people standing still, people in light with people in the shadows. The book also shows a very innocent display of longing and affection. Mickey and Miney Mouse walk hand in hand on the street, a couple locked in a kiss, a man staring up at the sky outside a store while a little girl stares up at him from inside.
There’s depth and perspective in the photographs, there is life and vibrance. The photos show a diversity that the city celebrates. The photographs set against street ads are always either interacting with, or juxtaposed against them. There’s a new emotion every time you turn the page.
Mack captures Marseille as an outsider but he makes the Marseillais his own. And with them, you.