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Looks like James Dean, haircuts worthy of a Fats Domino, leather jacket on the shoulders or a shirt printed Elvis with a Texas tie, baseball bats in hand and pictures of pin-ups on the wall… Philippe Chancel’s “rebels” are straight out America in the fifties.
It is however in France in the Eighties that these young night owls were swaggering. A France of mixed culture, the ‘black-white-arabe France’ before its time, which made of Paris its playground, between Nation, Republic, Gare de l’Est as well as the Grands Boulevards where Albert organized wild parties. It is revealed with panache in the work of Philippe Chancel who, for six months between 1982 and 1983, photographed two rival gangs against a background of friendship: the Del-Vikings and the Black Panthers.
The beginning of the 1980s was a turbulent period in France. The euphoria generated by the election of Mitterand quickly gave way to an ideological crisis of the left. The country, bogged down in unemployment, did not escape the neoliberal wave or the rise of the National Front, which went hand in hand with violence against immigrants. As a nod to “the pitiful spectacle that the beginnings of an odious electoral campaign gave us to see”, the Del-Vikings and the Black Panthers went out, smoked, drank, combed their hair, danced, flirted, kissed and swore by rock’n’roll, the ultimate outlet.
The photographer thought of Rebels as a rock piece: “I wanted to release a singular energy and assemble a photographic narrative that ultimately has no beginning or end, it is a story designed as a heady music that would turn in a loop. And there is a rhythm that must be that of rock, that is to say quite binary. Black and white, accelerated and slowed down, shadow and light, revealed and hidden, field and off-field, often two characters. Drawn into the raw energy of this daring youth, the reader cannot resist the driving rhythm of the images, carried by a powerful composition and contrasts that the trichromatism magnifies.
Barely 22 years old when he took these photographs, Philippe Chancel made his mark with the Del-Vikings and the Black Panthers, before traveling the world to produce an increasingly committed body of work. Long buried in his archives, this seething series has recently resurfaced, attracting the attention of director Jimmy Laporal-Tresor, who used it as inspiration for his film The Rascals, in theaters January 11.
Philippe Chancel – Rebels, youths of France
Published by The Joker Films, 2022
245 x 340 mm, 136 pages