Roe Ethridge: Pictures for Sale | Greengrassi

Roe Ethridge, an American photographer, spent the early part of 2021 in Paris, as the city started to shrug off the hideous toll of COVID, and started to reopen. The French capital had a tough time of it by European standards, both in its case rate and the strictness of the restrictions faced by citizens, including a nighttime curfew.

There’s something of that mood in the pose of an old lady who caught the photographer’s eye one day, and is featured in this show, on currently at Greengrassi. She stoically bears a bag for life, from the fairly fancy gift shop Pylones, through the streets of Montmartre. The sky is grey, the light flat and white, her posture is a bit slumped - but there’s something defiantly chirpy about her bright yellow beret, and the bunch of flowers sticking out of her bag. She’s on her daily grind, in some pretty hard times, but she’s making the best of it.

roe ethridge - giant woman in montmartre Giant Woman in Montmartre (2021)

The old lady is superimposed on a Parisian street scene. Those elegant black posts, the green bins, the flat-fronted creamy apartment blocks, even the paving stones seemed so evocative to me. The scene is enclosed: the street is narrow, the buildings are pretty high. The scale of the photo means the lady’s huge, dominating the frame, barely contained between the two rows of posts. She seems a bit trapped, but she’s ready to plod on, one sensibly shod foot in front of the other.

Clever Ethridge has superimposed her walking from right to left, though. This slightly jarring directional choice means she seems to be going backwards rather than making progress. Hopefully that’s not symbolically true, and I’ll be walking those narrow streets again, before too long. With no curfew!

Roe Ethridge: Pictures for Sale is at Greengrassi (London). 08 June - 31 July 2021