200,000 cafés in the 1960s compared with just 40,000 today. Are France’s local joints, the national pride, on the verge of extinction? Rather than documenting this vertiginous decline, photographer Guillaume Blot wanted to show the vitality of those that remain, the “resisters” who perpetuate an essential facet of the French art of living.
Pierrette, Gérard, Rabah, Cécile, Hamida, Michel… They are the face of a France that flourishes around the bar, a France in its juice or its pastis, as colourful as a scratch game. Every summer for four years, Guillaume Blot went out to meet them, visiting over 200 watering holes.
The idea came to him after his Buvettes series, devoted to the culinary specialities of French stadium snack bars. Leaning against the bar in the South of France, he became aware of the stories and history that these places contain. Initially targeting the Café des Sports, the name of the most popular bar in France, he eventually decided to document all the country’s bars, creating a veritable cartography of the watering holes of France, reproduced at the end of the book.
His images form a majestic portrait of the French bar, with its patrons, its pillars and its regulars, its mascots and its acrobats, its balloons and its foams, its water mints and its Orangina, its peanuts and its croissants, its table soccer and its scratch games.
Some like to compare him to Raymond Depardon, others to Martin Parr. Guillaume Blot is neither, or both. When he travels around France in his “Blotmobile”, as Depardon did in his camper van in the 2000s, he turns his attention to people. And every person he meets is a story to be told: Marius and his rosé-limonade or Laury, European accordion champion at the age of 12.
Avoiding the biting wit for which Parr has been criticised, Guillaume Blot looks at them with a humour that is never without a certain tenderness. The local joints are his local joints. He knows them and loves them; they are the embodiment of that anecdotal and poetic France that he never ceases to magnify.
Guillaume Blot – Rades. Un Tour de France des bistrots en photos
2023, éditions Gallimard (Collection Hoëbeke)
168 pages – 17 x 26 cm
Available in all good bookstores and online