What does it look like to be French right now? The question has gripped photographer Christopher Anderson since 2010, the first time he witnessed les joutes nautiques, the French sport of water jousting. Anderson had just started his artist residency in Sète, a port city in the Languedoc region of France. As he watched the matches, a ghost of an idea began to form, inspired by the white of the jousters’ pants and the blue- and red-painted poles they use to push one another into the water; the red of the fireworks that celebrate the festival’s end later joined the mix.
“I had never witnessed the national colors of France on display in this way,” he says, though he has lived in the country on and off since 1999. “It occurred to me that the colors of the flag could be a motif for this project I wanted to do about identity.”
The project, Bleu Blanc Rouge, also touches on Anderson’s own search for identity. His father is Canadian; his mother is American. He grew up in Texas, then roamed a bit before moving to France, where he eventually married a French woman. The couple and their two children spent years in New York before settling in Barcelona.
“I never had the idea of ‘this place is where I belong,’ ” Anderson says. “And now, having children who are half French, who speak French but are growing up in New York and Barcelona—I was thinking a lot about what it would mean to them to be French.”
As France grapples with issues of immigration and populism, what it means to be French is changing. Even the country’s relationship to the flag, which often used to be associated with Far Right nationalism, is evolving. “When I would explain the project to French people,” he says, “they would say, ‘We don’t have the connection to the flag that Americans do.’”
But when Anderson was in Paris for the recent presidential election, he saw something completely different. “People on the Left were displaying the flag in a way I had never seen before,” he says. “I think the French are realizing that national pride doesn’t have to coincide with nationalism.”
>>Next: Here's How Your Beloved Le Creuset Pot Was Made