Mario Forte plays the violent

We met outside the back door of 59 Rivoli, which means we met on Two Balls Street: La rue des Deux Boules. I had just photographed him playing violin, he was the closing performance of a 3-day jazz festival, but we wouldn’t have spoken if he hadn’t been standing with pianist Tony Tixier, because I’m shy and he resembles Rasputin.


Earlier that day, Tony had walked in yelling, “Who is Danielle Voirin?!?!” which meant he’d seen my blog. I was posting the day’s best photos from the festival and I guess he was either impressed or surprised to see the emotion he expresses while playing.

When he saw me leaving through the back door, he introduced me to Mario as “a really good photographer,” bless his heart, and we became friends.

Many of my favorite Parisians are nomads who keep a foot in town but create/perform/show much of their work elsewhere. Like the center of a wheel with spokes going all over the planet, it’s a city of fortuitous intersections. It’s comfortable, beautiful, geographically practical, but missing an edge, a creative grit that, if you need and can’t manage to keep a hold of here, you have to get elsewhere and bring back with you.
This is what I feel Mario Forte does. You can feel it on him when he comes back to town. And it’s always fresh, because he’s always in motion. Based in Paris, born in Italy, teaching in Lausanne, gigging anywhere and everywhere (Mexico, New York, Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, Austria, Germany), and sometimes recharging in Morocco.
What I appreciate about Mario, in addition to his incredible talent and diversity in musical collaboration, is that he’s really happy to be here, to be alive, exploring, composing, connecting people, and collaborating. He’s right now, in the present moment. not afraid to jump, a person who lives in the river, rather than watching from the banks.

In one of our first conversations about music, I said if I could do anything other than photography, I would be a musician. He then told me that every one of his friends who practices other creative arts all want to be musicians. But perhaps it’s just human nature, music is so connected to our emotions.

One night, talking about jazz over his home-made tagine, I commented on the lack of female jazz musicians. Many singers, not so many musicians. We were listening to Charlie Mingus, there was a solo and he said, “really, can you imagine a woman playing this?” Yes, it was hard to imagine, but a woman would play something very different, something striking in other ways, ways we haven’t heard yet.

Mario showed up in a dream once. In wondering what my mind was using him as a symbol of, I decided to draw a tarot card on the question. I got The Fool card. I’m a tarot novice, but know the Fool is the spontaneous, free-spirited child within us, creative and unafraid. It’s the way we are in the world before life teaches us to build protective walls around our unlimited potential.

Still, I wanted more info on the card and went to my favorite resource,, and found some phrases that rather closely describe how I see Mario :

The Fool :
– Is all about new experiences, personal growth, development and adventure.
– Encourages you to believe in yourself and follow your heart no matter how crazy or foolish your impulses may seem.
– Lives a carefree life, free from worry and anxiety. He does not seem to mind if he does not really know what lies ahead.
– Enhances courage, risk-taking and the creative expression needed to open up new areas in your life.
– Is about to step off a cliff into the material world.

I think Mario jumped early in life and has been flying ever since.

Mario_0094 ret

Amine Benotmane

I was bartending in an Irish pub in St. Michel, it was a very different epoch in my life.  My boyfriend had just moved to London and I was working part time in this bar, owned by a Turkish man who’s real name was probably not Charlie, and part time for a photographer who shall remain nameless but who we, the assistants, un-fondly called Le Monstre.  I was living in a 13 m2 apartment and in my spare time would pile all my belongings into the bathroom and practice taking portraits with lights borrowed from my school.  I lived this way for about a year but it seemed like five.

Amine came into the pub regularly for a Coke.  Our first conversation began with him asking me, “are you Muslim?”  I was pouring an excessively-frothy beer and he saw the ring on my middle finger.  I bought it on my first trip outside the U.S., to Mexico in 1995. It was a silver moon and star that wrap around my finger and cuddle each other without touching.   I had completely ignored its many meanings and uses, and simply wanted to wear a couple of dreamy elements of the night sky on my hand.

Amine is from Constantine, Algeria, and when I talk about wanting to visit his country he tells me, “Danielle, I’ll take you there. You have to be careful, we are savages!” He says this with a big smile and playful eyes. He’s a sweetheart, the friend you can count on whenever needed. When I bought my guitar, he took me to every store on rue de Douai and played guitars for me so I could hear which one felt and sounded like it should be mine.

He makes friends easily everywhere and is a remarkable diffuser of conflict. I’ve seen him completely extinguish another man’s anger with his kindness. The streets of Paris can be aggressive, everyone walks around owning the space around them and pushing you off the edge of it if you penetrate their perimeters. Amine has such an ever-accessible sense of humor and lightness about him, that walking through the city with him, I feel we float above the angst.

In the time we have known each other, he has created a heavy metal band called Acyl. I finally heard their music when they got a gig playing at the Maroquinerie in Belleville and he asked if I would come take photos. It was summer, and I walked in wearing a pale pink tank top, jeans and sandals. I usually like to blend in if I’m going to be photographing, but it had completely slipped my mind that day. I believe I was the only person not wearing black, with heavy boots on. I felt like a spring chic walking into a dungeon.

When Amine came on stage, I was down in front, ready. Except that I wasn’t. For my uninitiated mind, there was no build up, they jumped right into the fire and took us with them. Heavy guitar, heart-palpitating drums, and then Amine started screaming these growling guttural sounds into the microphone, from someplace deep inside that I had never witnessed. I was stunned. Impressed. A little confused. Where was this anger coming from? How do you go from silence, to making the most devilish sounds your human voice can create?

Because I consider him such a gentle giant, I think I smiled like Amelie Poulain discovering who the photo-booth repairman is, fascinated by the contrast and delighted to see my friend expressing himself so fully. I stopped just short of laughing out loud as if on a roller coaster, because I could see this was serious business, this metal music that was so foreign to me.

What I find so interesting, and maybe naïve of me, is the contrast between their on-stage personae and how the whole band is a bunch of really nice guys that wouldn’t harm a fly. Amine was right, they are savages, but only when they express themselves through their music.

Suisse Marocain

Suisse Marocain (b. David Hardy) is a German artist who was born in the air between Tangiers and Geneva.  When he’s not off traveling and collaborating with artists in Sicily and Madagascar, Germany or Portugal, he lives in Paris.  If you see him here in the winter, he usually has a good tan, choosing his déplacements wisely.  He’s a person who lives and wears his art.  Put him inside the Musée Igor Balut, his ever-evolving installation in his studio on the 4th floor of 59 rue de Rivoli, and he’ll seem to disappear.

Suisse inside his installation at the Vagabond Gallery show in a store-front space on rue des Saint Pères.  Paris, 2009.

Suisse inside his installation at the Vagabond Gallery show in a store-front space on rue des Saint Pères. Paris, 2009.

When I think of Suisse, aside from his incredible dimples, I think of freedom. Freedom of expression in fashion, painting, collaboration, performance.  I’ve seen him wearing pink knit legwarmers, a harlequin-printed jumpsuit, a top hat with a red heart on top (a favorite), and usually clothing he or another artist has painted on.  His playfulness says, “c’est pas grave” just have fun with it all, we don’t have to be so serious all the time, here’s a paint brush.

A random day at rue de la Tour des Dames.

A random day at rue de la Tour des Dames.

Suisse is one of the original residents of the well-known squat in the center of Paris at 59 rue de Rivoli that began in 1999, was bought by the city who renovated it from 2006-2009, then returned to the artists who now pay a nominal rent, and re-opened to the public on 09-09-2009.  I became friends with him when I hung around photographing in 2006 while they moved the entire 6 floors of studios over to the temporary one-floor space in the 9th, which the city loaned them during renovations.

One of the last days in the old version of 59 Rivoli.  Suisse going into his old studio through walls that have since been torn down.

“I came to tell you I’m leaving,” the title of a Serge Gainsbourg song painted on the walls of the former Musée Igor Balut, on one of the last days in the old version of 59 rue de Rivoli. Suisse Marocain can be seen walking into his old studio, through doorways that have since been torn down. Paris, 2006.

59 has the kind of energy that makes you feel something is always just about to happen.  It’s an adult fun house where the paintings don’t end at the borders of their canvases and there is always live music being played somewhere.  The entire place is a collaborative installation, or as my friend Holden calls it, “an art zoo.”  Being open to the public, it has become a tourist attraction.  If you stay there for an entire day, you meet a lot of people (artists, musicians, curious people, and some lost, who just want to be pointed toward the Louvre or the Notre Dame).  As Suisse has been working there for over a decade, he’s made a lot of connections and has often helped bring over artists from Lisbon, Madagascar, Italy, Germany and elsewhere to collaborate here and hold exhibitions.

Suisse & collaborative painting on a truck during Nuit Blanche, Paris, 2010.

Suisse & collaborative painting on a truck during Nuit Blanche, Paris, 2010.

I had a small studio at 59 in 2009/2010, around the corner from Suisse.  During that time, a part of my practice became devoted to self-portraiture, which began by using elements from Musée Igor Balut.  (The last photo on this page is one shot I did of myself inside the MIB that gives an idea of what it’s like, and features part of Suisse’s suitcase collection.)  At that time, his generosity encouraged me to claim space that I may never have asked for let alone taken, without having him metaphorically open the door and say, have a look in there, you can work here you know, we’ll make room for you.  Last summer I was looking for a studio and he cleared out a corner for me to use while he was in Sicily working and doing his under-water art show, an installation of artwork that requires viewers go diving in goggles to discover his work.  Because, why not?  With Suisse, anything is possible.

Hanging around during the 2nd move, from rue de la Tour des Dames back to 59 rue de Rivoli.  Paris, 2009.

Hanging around during the 2nd move, from rue de la Tour des Dames back to 59 rue de Rivoli. Paris, 2009.

Sea Eymere

The first thing she ever said to me was, “Did you hear, there’s no hot water!?!”  I looked at her in horror and she laughed.  “Just kidding!”  We met at a 10-day meditation retreat in Brittany, France.  Ten days in silence: that I can handle.  Ten days with cold showers… I’m not that courageous.

There was something familiar about her right away.  Later she would tell me I look like her cousin, so having me there in a neighboring bunk-bed gave her some comfort.  She had looked comfortable enough to me.  In the meditation room, as I sat struggling not to fidget, in pain from the torture of sitting still for hours without moving, she looked the definition of peaceful.  With folded-up legs, a straight back, and years of yoga practice behind her, she was planted stillness.  

One day on the Pont des Arts

One day on the Pont des Arts

The girl is a bit of a hippy, a word we laughed about the last time she was in Paris because though she does not like it, it pretty much fits.  This free spirit has been traveling almost non-stop for the last three years, and her agenda has included much yoga teaching (often near a beach), surfing, and Amazon tribe commiserating.  A recent Facebook post of hers informed us she was traveling around in a van in Australia with surfboards on the top.  I had lost track after I saw photos of her teaching yoga to children in Sri Lanka.

One morning in the Tuileries

One morning in the Tuileries

Born and raised in Paris, she has always been looking at the horizon.  In the five years we’ve been friends, she has lived/traveled in Iceland, Brazil, Finland, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Mongolia, The Philippines, Bali, Peru, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Namibia, Costa Rica and likely many other places I haven’t been able to keep up with.  I include her in my favorite Parisians because this is the city that nourished her, it was her trampoline, where she has flown away from and, luckily for us, sometimes flies back to.  It’s inspiring to keep up with her courageous free flight around this planet.

One morning at the Louvre

One morning at the Louvre

Through the years, we’ve had many coincidences in our friendship.  One night when she helped me move some things into a friend’s cellar, it turned out to be just below the apartment where her brother lived.  Last winter when, for the first time in my life I suddenly wanted to spend all my time in the kitchen baking, she was doing the same five hours south.  And tonight, as I tell her about starting this new blog on my birthday, she tells me she is also starting a new blog, planned to be launched on her birthday, though it’s a week late.  It seems like it’ll be born the same time as mine.  Happy Birthday dear Sea.