The Sounder

THE PERFECT SHOT Lebanese director Wissam Smayra on one of his favourite images
The Violin Player, 2006. By Wissam Smayra

I took this photo almost ten years ago on a summer day in Paris. August is my favourite month to visit the city. It’s half-empty, its denizens decamped to the south and abroad, and little is open for the same reason. There’s a feeling, an atmosphere unapparent at any other time, a vacancy in the city.

I was wandering around Pigalle with my vintage Type 100 Polaroid camera and experimenting with speed capture on moving subjects. I was using Fujifilm B&W Type 100 or peel-off film, which Fuji have stopped making. I have a preference for instant photography; it’s the ultimate way of producing a still photo. With instant images, each photo is unique - until it is scanned like the one here at least. The process concentrates the whole photography workflow in one single place: we frame, we measure light, we put the correct exposure, we press the button, the shutter opens, light goes in, hits the sensitive film, we remove the film from camera, we time the processing, we peel off the film and there you go, one unique single photo on paper. For me this is so exciting, it’s almost magic.

For this picture I saw the bicycle man coming towards me in advance. Camera was held at chest level and while walking beyond the pavement towards a projected meeting point, I triggered the shot as I was looking at the live action.

It was the balance of the man holding the violin case on the bicycle that hit my attention first. Then I was wondering, after looking at the guy’s face. Does he look like a violin player? He doesn’t seem the classic musician archetype. What if this case was holding something else? A barrel gun for example. And the banana pouch on his wrist, could that be the ammo? He is holding the case with his index finger bluntly out…

Later that day, I read in the news that a group of people were attacked in Paris. I then searched for a picture of the perpetrator. Surely it wasn’t my guy…

Born: Beirut in the ’70s

Trained: On VHS tapes and at cine clubs in ’80s Beirut
Influences: Illustrations in my schoolbooks. My mother’s fashion magazines – my father’s hidden magazines. My uncle’s cinema books. Early Lebanese TV programs. My Atari games. French Nouvelle VagueThis is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich
High Point: Every night before going to sleep
Low Point: Sunday evenings during school years
Top Tip: Only the mediocre are always at their best

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