A man falls in a busy Parisian Street in the evening. The cause is unknown. Did he feel dizzy, slip, or faint unconscious? Passers-by are so busy, wrapped up in their evening plans, going back home after work, excited to watch their favorite TV show streaming on the internet, or immersed in their cellphones. None of them, nobody stops to show any concern for this man lying on the sidewalk. Nobody wants to get involved and alter their plans for the night.
His body is still there after nine hours, a homeless person notices him and shows interest. As he is unresponsive, he calls the fire fighters. Upon arrival, the doctors at the hospital can’t save this man’s life. Cause of death, hypothermia. In short, he died of exposure, frozen in a frigid winter night between January 19th and 20th in Paris.
This is the true story of French-Swiss photographer René Robert, the photographer of the Flamenco artists. He took pictures of all the Flamenco legends of the 20th Century over a span of 50 years, many of them his friends from whom he had earned the upmost respect and love. His pictures were always in black & white, according to him, it enhanced the images strength in that moment he always sought after, when the expression of the singer, dancer or guitar player was at its peak.
Ever since my brother shared this piece of news with me, I’ve been feeling outraged. René was an artist, he wasn’t homeless, he had a home. He had just gone out for an evening stroll around his neighborhood. Despite that, it doesn’t really matter if he was or wasn’t a homeless person. Have we become so desensitized to human suffering as to be incapable of stopping our busy lives to check on a person who obviously was in need? What kind of society or civilization we have created in which we let people die in the street unattended? As his friend and journalist Michel Mompontet said: René was “killed by indifference.”
Mompontet also questioned himself: “Am I 100% sure that I would have stopped had I been confronted with that scene – a man on the ground? The lesson we must learn from this extremely sad story is that confronted with a situation like this, stopping to check on a person in distress makes the difference between life and death.
Here are some links of interest about this story.
El País: https://english.elpais.com/usa/2022-01-28/photographer-rene-robert-freezes-to-death-on-busy-paris-street.html
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/28/swiss-photographer-rene-robert-killed-indifference-france-shocked-hypothermia-death-busy-paris-street