Postes Vacants

Postes Vacants

12 Framed Photographs, hand painted sign,

I think it was Spring 2003 when my wife (then fiancé) and I went on holiday to Bordeaux. We explored this beautiful, historic and modern city, mostly on foot, always dragging around my sketchbooks and camera like the diligent artist. Late in the afternoon we chanced upon the disused Bourse du Travail. England doesn’t seem to have a direct equivalent to this kind of proud Socialist structure - labour exchange or union, so much more than a job centre1.

This remarkable 1930s Art Deco gem was a bit out of town and had acquired graffiti and suffered much wear and tear. I was spellbound. After a lot of conspicuous standing and staring, all I could do was to try and capture it on camera, the raking afternoon sun creating pronounced chiaroscuro on the sculptural frieze. But the main thing which fascinated me was the glass doors with red-painted2 metalwork spelling out an array of jobs in in a characteristic period typeface with no kerning. Like a triumphant call to arms: Gardeners! Bakers! Brewers! Dockers! Builders! Cabinetmakers! Typographers! Tailors! Accountants! Musicians! Sculptors!

The job names are like an architectural list of job vacancies3. The building represents another vacancy, both in its physical emptiness and social redundancy. I haven’t been back to Bordeaux but I understand this building is undergoing an extensive renovation and is worthy of a pilgrimage in my opinion. I am pleased that its beauty and cultural significance is being recognised and preserved; but as a relic it can never regain its social centrality and quotidian functionality. Marianne is crowned with pigeons and her pedestal stands in the market square, now a car park with a caravan staffed by Algerians selling waffles to tourists4.

Over the years of changing jobs and lives and homes, I’ve always kept these pictures with me. Even though they have never really fitted within my wider art practice I just like them, I don’t really know why, and I feel they speak strongly for themselves. I have found a series of 12 but I am not sure there weren’t once more which didn’t come out as well. I seem to have managed to chop the tops off some of the doors so there are other job titles missing. I guess I couldn’t get far enough back on the pavement to get the whole door in shot. Time was short, I didn’t have a tripod (tut, amateur!) and the light was receding. 

The sign is new for this most recent version. I wanted to make the link in the title with job adverts a little stronger, and then copying the typeface from the metalwork seemed like a natural progression. Perhaps I feel like a bunch of photos of someone else’s architecture and design in Ikea frames wasn’t enough to constitute real art and so, inspired by the tradespersons’ skills, I decided to actually make something. The sun was setting beautifully as I painted in gold and it occurred to me I don’t have the requisite skill to be a sign painter. But I can draw on patience and stickability. 

Meanwhile, there I am amongst the buses and passers by, playing the part of artist, flaneur, photographer. But it’s another pose - still using my manual OM1 and film but I have never actually even been in a darkroom. I am no longer that slim young man but I still claim to be an artist and a musician, and now also a husband and a dad, a manager, a patient. And when my situation is vacant pictures like this and a few songs will be all that is left. 

And look there: book-ending the series, there is my beloved, not wanting to be centre of attention, but waiting patiently for me to finish the job and get off stage so we can enjoy croques and crêpes and read books in the park. So in the end it’s a love song, of a sort. 

1 Not that you can easily find a job centre anymore; says he: middle class, southern white male who’s never had to use one. 

2 The red paint may have been anti-rust undercoat but it looked striking at the time. 

3 I assumed many of the métiers might have disappeared but most of these crafts and trades still exist, even if in lesser numbers due to mechanisation (eg. Arrimeurs: Stevedores). What jobs might feature now? Conceptuer D’Application? Entraîneur Personnel? Candidat Au Concours de Talents? 

4 This is just an observation, not a criticism. I love France and the same is true of England, which I also love. This is the post-colonial world of inequality in which we now live.