Non-Candid Photographs of Strangers in Non-Place Places

“Non-lieux,” or “non-place,” is a term coined by French anthropologist Marc Augé in a 1995 book titled, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. It refers to places that lack history and tradition, places that people pass through, places that are solely meant for transactions, places where people are largely anonymous faces, and places that aren’t significant enough to be considered “places.”

Since 2007, photographer Benoit Paillé has been going to these non-place places, talking to random strangers, and asking them to pose for a portrait.

Here’s what Paillé says about his “Strangers Project”:

Questioning the modern world in which we are living and trying to break this individualism and the anonymity of the big city. By going into “non-lieux” (non-places) (subways, malls, and crowded streets at rush hour…) and by talking to people to take photos, I break the usual way this modern world works for a few instants. I make real these “non-lieux” by creating an event that the stranger will remember.

So all my models are strangers met in the street, trains, subway, mails, etc.

You can find all 200+ of the stranger portraits that Paillé has shot so far in this Flickr set.

Stranger Project by Benoit Paillé (via Fstoppers)

Image credits: Photographs by Benoit Paillé

  • Gerald Gonzales


  • herpderp

    How is being in front of the Eiffel tower a “non-place”?

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd

    My thoughts exactly. I think he framed that shot really wrong. If he’d framed it right we would’ve seen it as a non-place.

  • Roberto Inetti

    Some very good portraits. I wish I had half his talent.

  • Jeremy Madore

    Brilliant photography and framing, even though some obvious landmarks exist here. The focus is spot on, images are extremely crisp and they all maintain the same feel and overall intent of the project. After looking through his Flickr set, I’m quite impressed!

  • Sergio Kanazawa

    If the dof is too shallow, we can´t tell it´s a non-place. The girl in the airport is a good one though. Maybe it´s her pose, or maybe because we can still see it´s an airport or something.

  • 3ric15

    What camera and lens? There is incredible limited depth of field.

  • kyoshinikon

    I disagree… The eiffel tower isn’t showcased in the photograph nor does it play a large role in the picture. The photographer obviously did not care that the tower was there enough to compose it in a more strategic spot. It is just a background element that just happens to be commonly photographed..

  • susan woog wagner

    Reminds me of Humans of New York photographer… Both are quite good!

  • DebraT

    Maybe to you or even me that is…to this women and the photographer, they could see it as just another building that they walk past everyday as they walk their dog. But it is a place non-the-less, that is pin point-able, so I agree.

  • eraserhead12

    I agree, since the background itself is an important theme in the project, there shouldn’t be so much bokeh.

    I like pics like the kid in the airplane. the pics of the old folks in the streets are by their own merit nice pics, but there’s too much attention on the stranger and none on the scenery.

  • derekdj

    Beautiful photographs, but the whole “non-place” sounds a lot like Mel Brooks to me “so your a philosopher … have you bullish!tted today?”

    Isn’t the fact that you’re shooting and placing importance on a “non-place” turning it into a “place”? Is King’s Cross station a non-place because it’s a place of public transience?

  • Peter Grifoni

    Great portraits but this is really just the same as the 100 Strangers project Group on Flickr.

  • rymndhng

    Give it some perspective. The artist is clearly from France. From a local’s point of view, the park around the Eiffel tower is just another park. Just like how we would not find our own neighborhoods particularly interesting.

  • Anatole

    wow, very neat!
    Besides the whole philosophical stuff, I really loved the portraits.

  • Niklas Hjelm

    This is very good work!

  • michaelp42

    Finally a project with some brilliant photos! :-)

  • alex

    he’s canadian. don’t know where he lives though.

  • Chris Blizzard

    Beautiful photos, and making such great portraits of strangers on the street is admirable.

    The whole non-place thing though… I get subways, trains, roads, etc. They’re for going from one place to another, they’re not “places” themselves. As far as I’m concerned though, malls, markets, skateparks, the eiffel tower, and coffee shops are all places.

  • D Rudd

    These are nice shots, but the concept behind them is entirely wrong-headed and almost completely contrary to good anthropology. He shoots non-place places to create ‘events’ – but for whom are they non-places? The photographer? What about the train conductor who has spent his career on trains? One could says that all trains are his ‘place’, and though they seem anonymous to us they represent something significant to him, such as childhood dreams or a way for him to regulate an unregulatable world. Or perhaps the grounds near the Eiffel Tower where immigrants spend each day and evening selling trinkets? It is their spot, their ‘place which they value and protect. This part of the pavement hardly represents a ‘non-place’ to the seller. And so on and so on throughout these shots.

    Ironically, this photographer’s attempt to create ‘events the stranger will remember’ and bring to life non-places only exposes his own failure to overcome the first, most basic problem of anthropology: not to conflate one’s own myopic worldview with those of others, and to immediately project that their experience of the world mirror one’s own. Instead of exploring what his subjects see and experience he photographs his own vision of ‘non-places’ and declares – only conceptually, not visually through his pictures – his subjects experiencing the same environment the same way.

    Let us remember the camera in it’s natural state says ‘look at what I see’ and it takes a deft, intelligent and truly remarkable photographer to enable the camera to say ‘look at what this person sees’. Mr Paille it is time to re-read your basic anthropology texts.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    Great series, his strongpoint is clearly vertical and squared compositions. I think his horisontal ones are the weakest in the bunch. But other than that they were great.

  • Caio Basilio Muñoz

    is there something wrong with dof?

  • GA

    man, this is great stuff. loved each and every picture… amazing work!!

  • OmniMode

    Wow #6 The girl with kaleidoscope eyes! :-)

  • harumph

    Wow, I love these.

  • DafOwen

    Does seem like something I’ve not seen before. Either a funky lens I’m not familiar with or done in post maybe ?

  • eraserhead12

    I think the term ‘non-place’ is relative to the subjects, not the photographer. for anyone else visiting the Eiffel Tower is a rare opportunity that makes for memorable photos.

    But for the grandma and dog, they’ve probably passed by it countless times on their daily walks. So it’s a non-place to her. she wouldn’t normally have photos taken of her walking the dog, just because it’s in front of a monument.

  • Rémi Carreiro

    he uses a leica. not sure how much help that is.

  • 3ric15

    Hey it’s better than nothing! Thanks, I new it had to be something special because just the way the pictures look.

  • Jeff Reynolds

    I do agree with this. I had the same reaction to some of the photos. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized showing a famous (and historic) landmark like the Eiffel Tower in the background raises some interesting questions about the role of these structures in our lives. For the most part, where the woman is standing, everyone is passing through, and the experience is one of countless and meaningless anonymous interactions – which seems to be a component of a “non-place.’

  • autumnbringer

    On Flickr, some of his shots have Canon 5D Mark II in the tags, along with 35mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.4

  • Max

    He’s from Quebec. He lives in Trois-Rivière.

  • Rémi Carreiro

    definitely. only reason I found that out was because of a self portrait he shot of himself in the mirror.

  • niranjan

    amazing work…well done

  • Carolyn Cordon

    Beautiful pictures, every one telling it’s own story.

  • Truthonaplate

    awesome, outstanding for words