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Ghosts of Place Blanche: 1965-75

Ghosts of Place Blanche : 1965-75

Project Description:

Target Date: 2021/22


Since the middle of the 20th century the technology that allowed cisgender males to consider the possibility of changing their gender and sexual identities has been available, enticing and expensive. Ghosts of Place Blanche will be one of the projects of This Dancerie that engages this aspect of queer culture over the last hundred years.  Ghosts of Place Blanche will draw upon inspiration from the body of work produced by Swedish photographer Christer Stromholm during the 1960’s near Place Blanche, the neighborhood of Paris that is home to the Moulin Rouge and an ongoing center of adult entertainment.

Shot throughout the 1960’s, many of Stromholm’s subjects were transgender sexworkers who were motivated by their desire to achieve gender reassignment and had transitioned into female identities. The social challenges and economic realities these women faced at that time are elaborated in interviews that were associated with the 1983 publication of Stromholm’s Les Amies de Place Blanche. In his introduction Stromholm wrote:

This is a book about insecurity.  A portrayal of those living a different life in the big city of Paris, of people who endured the roughness of the streets.

This is a book about humiliation, about the smell of whores and the nightlife in cafes    

This is a book about humiliation, about the smell of whores and the nightlife in cafes  

This is a book about the quest for self-identity, about the right to live, about the right to own and control one’s own body.

This also a book about friendship, an account of the life we lived in the Place Blanche and Place Pigalle neighborhood.          

Its market, its boulevard and the small hotels we resided in.

These are images from another time. A time when de Gaulle was president and           France was at war against Algeria.

These are images of people whose lives I shared and whom I think I understood.

These are images of women—biologically born as men –that we call “transsexuals.”  

As for me, I call them ‘my friends of Place Blanche’. This friendship started here, in the early 60s and it still continues.

Ghosts of Place Blanche will conjure the spirit of Stromholm’s project in ways that reflect the realities of life in Paris half a century later. Whereas the options and process of gender reassignment created a community at the edges of mainstream society forcing trans-women into sex-work, transpeople are now making lives for themselves in all walks of life. Whereas the women in Stromholm’s photos were white and French, today’s transgender sexworkers are most likely immigrant people of color; whereas in the 1960s sex work was a direct form of interaction often involving the intercession of pimps, social media has become a tool of the trade; whereas the nature of violence, addiction, disease, invisibility and alienation continue to characterize this life, the specifics have changed; whereas the war with Algeria is part to the story of a large resident Algerian population in Paris, the French engaged in struggles across the middle east are now creating new facets of its cultural reality; and whereas political realities cut across all aspects of society and gender and sexuality cut across all cultures, these factors will be intertwined in Ghosts of Place Blanche.

In Ghosts of Place Blanche, Tony Whitfield will create a series of portraits inspired by Christer Stromholms photographs with transgender people who currently inhabit the area ranging from Place Pigalle to Place de Clichy, with Place Blanche as its pivot. A series of interviews will also be produced to accompany Whitfield’s photos. Tony Whitfield proposes projection of his photographs on screens mounted on the roof of the building at the corner of Rue Puget at Place Blanche a site that has histor as a work environment and social hub for transgender people.


In Ghosts of Place Blanche, Whitfield will create a series of 15-20 ten of black and white portraits of individual subjects that will change in 50 second intervals. Between each portrait will be slates that introduce the next subject. Accessible via an app that will be tagged with QR codes, each photo will be accompanied by a statement excerpted from an interview with the subject. A longer edited version of the interview will also be available on the app.

To engage subjects for his photographs and interviews, Whitfield will work with filmmaker, Sebastian d’Ayala Valva to identify a few key residents of the area who are intimately involved in the lives of that neighborhood’s resident transgender sex workers. Ayala Valva’s films Angel and Tranvestites Also Cry have focused specifically on the lives of several of these individuals. In addition Whitfield will use social media to engage transgender residents within a ten-minute radius of that area.

In addition to information specific to Ghosts of Place Blanche, the app will also link the viewer to information about the histories of Place Blanche and Boulevard de Clichy from Pigalle to Place de Clichy and its environs, transgender people in the 1950’s and today, as well as provide information and connections to sites for This Dancerie as a whole and its components.

Visual and media artist, Klaus Fruchtnis who has executed numerous video projection based works in pubic spaces in the region will act as a technical consultant for this project. In addition, radio producer, Paul Wright will collaborate with Whitfield on the production of audio components of Ghosts of Place Blanche in formats for radio. Composer Andrew Alden will create a score/sound environment for this project.