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Eric Cantona – Homelessness, photography and fame

 Macadam (France) 15 February 2019

“You don’t create art for its utility. You do it because something touches you… When I take a photo, I try to emphasize the feeling that I had when I took it, I try to make that clear in the print. I want to be in that emotion and stay there, because that’s what makes us feel alive.” Football legend Eric Cantona has come a long way since his kung fu kicking days with Manchester United, as Macadam’s Caroline Charoon discovered. Since hanging up his football boots in 1997, the soccer star has gone on to pursue some less predictable pastimes, from photography to acting. Here, he speaks about his latest project, a book of photographs of homeless people raising funds for the Abbé Pierre Foundation for the poor, and what art, fame and charity mean to him. (1476 Words) - By Caroline Charron



 Courtesy of Macadam

Macadam (France) - When he walks into the room, silence settles. Cantona is quite imposing. Yet, when questions are asked, he reflects for a long time, he hesitates, he sometimes gets carried away, allowing his heart and emotions to speak. Eric Cantona is without a doubt, the king of football, but he is above all else an artist, sensitive, attentive to others and generous.  He is publishing a book of photos for the Fondation Abbé Pierre (Abbé Pierre Foundation).


Caroline Charron: How did the idea for this beautiful book to help the homeless come about?

Eric Cantona: I found out about the Abbé Pierre Foundation many years ago. With my brother and some other sportsmen, every year for the last three years we have put together a beach soccer tournament in Metz [city in northeast France], as we will in March 2010, to raise funds for the Foundation. My wife* is also a sponsor of the charity.

I had put together an exhibition of photos on bullfighting, and some representatives from the Abbé Peirre Foundation thought that it would be good if I could do the same for the homeless. I said yes straight away but I had to find the time to dedicate myself to it. I would like to do an exhibition of these photos, too, but, again, it's about finding the time. It would only be to choose about thirty photos out of the 123 which are in the book, print them… I prefer to take my time rather than do it any old way.


CC: How did you approach the homeless people  that you were photographing?

EC: Each time, I was accompanied by a volunteer from the Foundation, and people were warned in advance that we were coming. I made the most of trips I had to make for professional reasons, notably to Brazil, to go to places where the Foundation operates. I spent an entire day in each place in order to establish a relationship with the people. I wanted to show them in their daily lives, while respecting their privacy, the beauty in their eyes, their bravery too… I didn't want to dwell on the dark side. It was a real exchange. The people were happy to see me, but what is important is the way in which we look at them. They have an immense need for love and respect.


CC: Do you consider art to be something useful?

EC: You don't create art for its utility. You do it because something touches you. When it's finished, if it's become something better, you have to remember that what it started with was an emotion. When I take a photo, I try to emphasize the feeling that I had when I took it, I try to make that clear in the print. I want to be in that emotion and stay there, because that's what makes us feel alive.

I started taking photos, it was something more abstract. Taking pictures of the little details in an object which gave a more abstract result. After I worked on the bullfighting pictures, I chose to take them in black and white. I did this because to me, given the subject, it felt more appropriate. For these photos, I wanted to be quite close to the people, but they should also show the surroundings. Light is also very important in these photos.


CC: What is your view on the current instability in France?

EC: It is very difficult to see people in this position in a country which as rich as ours.

55 years after the famous winter of '54 [an extremely cold winter in France when homeless people were dying in the streets], the battle continues. The book is like a reminder, to not let ourselves get used to these images. We are too likely to zap, to pass quickly from one thing to the next, but there are certain situations in which this is unacceptable! To stop ourselves becoming indifferent, to keep our eyes open, we have to begin to fight against ourselves, against how easy it is to look the other way, to not get used to seeing poverty as part of the furniture.


CC: Why did you choose the Abbé Pierre Foundation, for housing for the disadvantaged, rather than other causes?

A lot of causes are important to me: the housing, health, education, world hunger… It's all very serious. There is no one cause more worthy than another. It was a combination of different circumstances which led me to invest myself in the Abbé Pierre Foundation. The man himself and his courage made an impact on me, and made me want to go further. Even though I never had the opportunity to meet him, I do have a great respect for Abbé Pierre. He spent his life giving to others, and now that he is no longer with us, his work has to be continued. He is irreplaceable, he was a unique character, but we can try to continue his fight. Logically, the State should deal with these issues, but it doesn't, or at least not enough. Thankfully, associations take the baton.


CC: When you are a star, is it difficult to stay connected to reality?

EC: I have never considered myself to be above anyone or different. Don't forget that football is the most popular sport in the world. Basically, there are few players from affluent backgrounds. We are almost all immigrants or children of immigrants! What I wanted was to play with the greatest footballers, not to become famous! I always tried to concentrate on my work, not become influenced by what others were telling me. Football is a simple pleasure that we can share with friends or family. In football teams, there is a huge mix of nationalities and cultures, and in that sense, football is ahead of society. Whether on the pitch or in the locker room, we laugh and we cry together, regardless of our origins. I try to pass this onto my children - simplicity, small pleasures, values, and it's not always easy… But I try!

I am fortunate, through sport and my job, to have had an easy life, but you shouldn't forget where you come from. You can't forget your roots or all the things that that taught you; love and respect for others. Whatever way you live your life, you can keep your eyes open. But it should be wanted.


CC: You have always been popular with the public. Why do you think that is?

EC: I achieved my dream by having a career that I made for myself and shared with the public. I have met some great people, and some not so great. That basis is mutual respect. There is no one person more important than anyone else. However, if a hooligan insults me, I do react because I'm human. I was told, "You're above that." No, in fact, I am not above anyone or anything! It is probably not the best way to react, jumping into the public domain to settle my disputes, but I reacted as a human, settling it man to man. The starting point is respect and love for others. Basically, I respect everyone but if you insult me or if you disrespect me, I respond. It seems logical to me.


*Actress Rachida Brakni, former resident of the "Comédie française" theatre, who is currently directing Eric Cantona and Lorànt Deutsch in the Nathalie  Saugean play "Face au Paradis".

Abbé Peirre's battle continues. The Foundation, established in 1987, aims to continue the work of Abbé Pierre, who died in 2007 after devoting his life to the poor. The money collected is used to build homes, to accommodate the homeless or to rehabilitate slums.

Eric Cantona, a sponsor of the Foundation, visited five locations (Paris, Lyon, Metz, Réunion and Brazil) where the Abbé Pierre Foundation operates. All proceeds from the sale of his book will go to the Foundation.

- "Her, Him and Others" by Eric Cantona

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