René Robert and the values of our society

Rene Robert by Jean-Louis Duzert/Avalon

As the cold and dark nights arrive and the countdown to Christmas starts, many of us are in a mad rush: finishing work, getting decent and sustainable presents, attending the last events of the year, seeing friends and so on.

I’d like to take a moment to stop the rushing around and remember something from the beginning of this year. To be precise, I’d like to remember someone whose tragic death could have been avoided if we’d just paid a bit more attention.

I would like to finish the year and the 2022 blogging with remembering René Robert, flamenco photographer.

René Robert was originally from Switzerland, but he lived most of his life in Paris. In the 1960s he started visiting a flamenco venue in Paris, called Le Catalan and became so captivated by this art form that he started documenting it. Over the years, generations of flamenco singers, dancers and guitarists were captured on his black and white photographs.

He was always in search of the creative moment, trying to depict the extreme emotions in flamenco, capturing the moment of catharsis. His friends described him as a reserved and quiet man, who preferred to stay away from the spotlight and despite not speaking much Spanish, he was able to become close with the artists, and made friends with people like Camarón and Paco de Lucía.

Farruco by Rene Robert

The news of his death shocked the world at the end of January 2022, particularly because of the tragic circumstances.

Robert slipped, while being on one of his nightly walks in central Paris, where he lived and fell on the ground unconscious. He lied there for nine hours, until someone called the ambulance. By the time he was taken to hospital, he suffered from such severe hypothermia, his life could not be saved. He was 84 years old.

Anger, frustration, grief, incredulity were some of the words used to describe the feelings of people reading the news; raising a lot of eyebrows questions in Paris, in France and beyond.

In our busy lives, no matter if we live in a small or big city, we are mostly in a rush. We are rushing to work, home to prepare dinner, to pick up the kids, to walk the dog, we are rushing to yoga and kickbox, to the dentist. We all have our reasons.

I dare ask: when we see someone lying on the pavement, why don’t we stop and check if the person is ok? As many people commenting on this topic, I also would like to state I am not here to judge. I have also passed by people sitting, lying, sleeping on the ground and I have not stopped. But why? Why don’t we stop? Wouldn’t it be basic human decency to check on the other human being?

The newspapers writing about the incident sparked a debate about civic responsibility, challenging our collective conscience. Is this the society we want to live in? Are these the values we want our society to have?

I am not trying to respond any of these questions here but I do suggest we stop for a moment to have a think about our values, the values of our society and the responsibility we’ve got towards each others as humans. And perhaps next time, when someone is lying on the pavement, we will stop.

Juana la del Pipa by Rene Robert