Bercy 12° Arrondissement Paris The place where talent and effort coexist




Bercy – 12° Arrondissement Paris – The place where talent and effort coexist


The motto “ Success is 10 % inspiration and 90% perspiration”, attributed to inventor Thomas Edison could be the ideal subtitle for the exhibition I am about to tell you. In her “Bercy Street workout, Photographies 2020-2023”, Marine Peixoto, class 1984, presents the life journey of the Parisian youth in Bercy, where the 12th-arrondissement youngsters gather to play sports in a public park. 

The habit of sharing outdoor spaces is not a new trend, especially if the activity takes place in disadvantaged neighborhoods where there are very few alternatives to the street. In this case, however, there are some particular elements to highlight. The public workout park in Bercy is a place where one can perform sports activities outdoors for free. Among the men who train there is Medhy, a young event planner who coordinates various initiatives there and who proposed Marine Peixoto to photograph the people who train there. The photos that Marine took for three years and more than 1.000 days, acquire the sense of serial and complete documentation of the sporting activity, but also slices of the protagonists’ lives. Chatting with communication assistant Chiara Serena Froldi of Le Bal Museum, sipping a hot coffee, served to us by the friendly Aurélie, we agree that the exhibition was also a form of exercise for Peixoto. Just as routine, repetition of movements and continuous exercise allow athletes to perform perfect sit-ups, so too does photographic practice executed daily and with a commitment to achieve the same goal with images. In this sense, the daily practice of art and sport not only allows one to achieve unexpected goals, occupying the present without renouncing who one is; but looking at the physical effort made by the athletes brings us back to our initial consideration of talent and effort required to achieve adequate results.

Marine’s photos are all in black and white, with intense hues reminiscent of Dave Heath’s portraits. The thread of the story also calls to mind the work of Alex Majoli, a Magnum Agency photographer, now one of the founders of the Cesura collective, whose images, like Peixoto’s, are the photojournalistic effigy of the present. More than 200 shots portray the Bercy boys during their training sessions, but also in their convivial and intimate moments, at home, preparing meals. The faces are clean-shaven and look straight at the camera, proud of their bodies and scars, sometimes blatantly displayed and photographed. One cannot help but empathize with these young boys for their physical achievements, just as one cannot help but consider the repeated and continuous effort made by Marine over the three years of her work to always be there, enduring this relentlessly tiring practice, just as it is to perform 500 push-ups for athletes in Bercy Park.

The photojournalistic function of Marine’s work is, in my opinion, truly remarkable. The living conditions of young Parisians in recent years are not at all positive. After a youth unemployment rate of 25% to 40% in 2012, (the latter figure referring to banlieues), highlighted by former President Francois Hollande in an interview with ‘Le Nouvel Obs’ at the end of March, French politicians made efforts to try to lower this rate in the following years. Today, Macron’s government aims to reach 5% youth unemployment in 2027. Despite this, the type of jobs that young people hold always have a connotation of precariousness, with low wages that also prevent them from being able to eat enough. Therefore, the unemployment rate is closely linked to the level of precariousness and poverty to the extent that young people increasingly turn to food aid centers and are behind in paying their rent. Against this backdrop, it is extremely complicated to even think of practicing sports in expensive gyms well-heated in the winter and refrigerated in the summer. There are no economic means to do so. 

Looking back to the past, life for young people has never been easy. The series of images in which Rocky Balboa, after a period of sporting and family difficulties, resumes training in an icy Philadelphia morning, running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with background music that shakes the soul, is indelibly imprinted in the minds of film audiences. Everyone empathized with the man who had faced many financial hardships to find redemption through boxing, one of the toughest sports. In classic film iconography, Rocky represents the man who was able to break through the glass ceiling of an indifferent American society with his fists. Similarly, the boys of Bercy, by engaging in calisthenics, are inspired by the concept of caring for the body and nourishing the self, regardless of social conditions of origin, in a strongly revolutionary and peaceful act, on the backdrop of the terrorist events that have struck France in the past. The practice of this sporting discipline, which has seen famous American forerunners for years in the USA, such as the YouTuber Hannibal for King, now arrives in France with interesting sociological implications.

Ten years ago, when the first calisthenic videos were already present on the web, it was more common in Paris to see hordes of Sunday joggers roaming around the city, from Malakoff to Boulevard Wilson, in an utterly Parisian rendition of sport performed in Arc’teryx vests. Now that homologation has also hit the French capital in many areas, among which clothing, with “friperies” scattered everywhere, bicycle lanes, and the obsession for organic food and cosmetics, the research of social redemption of the Bercy youth is also inspired by the path of other countries where integration, although more archaic, still finds serious difficulties in being fully realized.

Publishing on Frames Magazine

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Bercy – 12° Arrondissement Paris – The place where talent and effort coexist”, by Silvia Ionna

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