From 1997 to 2003, I organised one-day celebrations in twenty-five sites around the world. Each time, a hundred young persons were invited. Each of them was given a disposable camera.
Using the thousands of photographs taken on these occasions, I invented Le plus beau jour de ma jeunesse (The Most Beautiful Day of My Youth).
From Morocco to Japan, from Burma to Cuba, from Cambodia to Sweden… it seemed to me that this image of youth in the world resembled the festive and playful atmosphere of Happiness Regained, my first staged photographs taken twenty years ago.
Here is how each celebration unfolded:
I convinced the organisers that this was not a photo studio, but a gratuitous and Proustian experience of time, photography and happiness.
Being neither vast nor narrow, the sites were chosen because they were both typical of the country and at the same time rather surprising for the young persons.
I requested that the 80 to 100 participants – ranging from 15 to 20 years old – be not of the same social and cultural background. I wrote them a letter, which was then translated into their own language.
I met these young persons to tell them about the project. I asked them to choose an object that they would bring on the day of the celebration. I insisted that the project was not about the place itself, but about them and what they liked.
On a given morning, we would ride the bus or a boat… we each had our disposable camera with us (except for the last two celebrations, shot with digital cameras). I didn’t supervise the shots. My assistant Antonin and I would run from one group to the other, handing out surprises: smoke grenades, gold paper, Bengal lights, drinks…
For 2 to 3 days after the celebration, we would see to the selection of the photographs, to their printing and to the arrangement of the exhibition.
Then came the time of the opening and the miracle of a true exhibition happened repeatedly. Indeed, we were invariably full of doubts before completing the selection: « what if it doesn’t work this time … ». In the end, the last celebration confirmed it all: choosing a unity of place, time and age, selecting 60 pictures out of 2 to 3000, infallibly leads to success. The participants were also amazed: these indeed were the photos they had taken, but this was going well beyond their imagination. Their sense of freedom had formed with our sense of freedom in the selection.
But this is not all. When one arbitrarily decides on a definite moment in time, when one first devotes it to happiness, and then reconstructs it in the staging of an exhibition, one’s wish comes true: the moment becomes exceptional. During the openings, I kept hearing: “Sir, it truly is the most beautiful day of my youth!”
In 20 or in 50 years, a number of them will probably remember le Plus beau jour de ma jeunesse and will refer to it with solemnity.