Seventh PUC / University of Paris Symposium

by Peter Coles

27 June 2023

︎ by Yue Sheng

In May nearly all of this year’s Photography and Urban Cultures (PUC) MA students travelled to Paris to meet with their counterparts on the Sociology MA programme at Université de Paris (Cité) for a symposium around the theme of Lockdown. This, it turns out, was the seventh meeting co-organised by Peter Coles and Dr Carolina Sanchez-Boe. For the first time Paul Halliday was unable to be with us – and was missed. 

We had originally hoped to welcome the celebrated Chilean-born, New York-based photographer, writer and urbanist Camilo José Vergara, but sadly had to postpone his visit for another date. It was around Camilo’s extraordinary work on lockdown that we had chosen the theme for this year’s symposium. We nevertheless kicked off the meeting with a screening of an extract of an illustrated interview with him talking about his Pandemic Diaries work.

The main body of the programme alternated between illustrated presentations by students from Goldsmiths, University of London and Université Paris Cité, with ample time for discussion. The short but wonderfully evocative presentations gave us a window on personal experiences of lockdown from Taiwan to Shoreditch via a farm in Brittany (Northwest France) to student accommodation in Paris. 

Peter Coles by Zhenghan Lin

It felt cathartic, as though this was the first time we could all share a little bit of the intimate highs and lows of this very unusual period in our lives. The day ended with a traditional get-together over a drink, this time in the delightfully unmodernised Rouquet café on Boulevard St Germain. 

︎by Zhenghan Lin

For the two guided walks the following day, we were blessed with sunshine and, despite a cold northerly wind, decent temperatures. Carolina took us on a fascinating walk around the less well-known north face of Montmartre, weaving in between flocks of tourists – and a wedding – to discover traces of the Commune: France’s ‘other’ and often stifled revolution, echoed with traces of more contemporary anarchist symbols. 

In the afternoon, we gathered again on the other side of the Seine in southern Paris, for a walk around the very un-touristy 13th arrondissement, with its 1970s architecture and busy Chinatown, contrasted with the nearby village atmosphere of the Buttes aux Cailles.  Here Peter revealed hidden Buddhist temples amid Brutalist high-rises, as well as the traces of the long-buried Bièvre river.

Rue de la Mire with Carolina Sanchez Boe by Zhenghan Lin

It was a joy to meet Carolina again in Paris after the pandemic hiatus – and to see PUC student faces familiar from New Cross filtering into the top floor of a Paris lecture theatre.  The Paris students’ English (like overseas PUC students’) was impeccable opening the way for some productive exchanges which, we hope, will lead to further possibilities for collaboration.

Peter Coles is Visiting Tutor at the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London, where he contributes to the Photography and Urban Cultures MA programme.

︎ Background image by Hsilun Chen