My uncle was never what you would call a practical man. He was more of an eccentric, least ways that was what my family called him. He came back from Waterloo a broken man and lived the rest of his days at our home, the home of his brother, at Rue Saint-Maur, here in Paris.
When I was a kid, he would experiment with chemicals. He made me pick a leaf from the street and then we placed it on one of his solutions. When we came back in the morning, there was an outline of the leaf on the plate – a sort of white shadow. To me he wasn’t strange, to me he was my uncle Joseph and he was my hero.
After a few months, he had succeeded in making an image of me and my younger brother. It was the strangest of feelings to see yourself as others might see you.
As I grew into my teenage years I would assist my Uncle Joseph in making images of the Paris streets, for as he rightly said, they were disappearing and a record needed to be kept of how the city once looked.
As you probably know the citizens of Paris had got rid of the elite – several times, if truth be told, and now we were living in the Second Republic. But those above us, our ‘betters’, the middle classes, took over the spaces left by the rich. We, the working people, had bonded over our struggles and as a result, we had become strong.
The government had created workshop which people like my father and brothers could go to, and learn a trade and get some work. That would be my future also.
But those who knew better - the middle classes - shut the workshops down and that is when the trouble really began. You see, just like the rich people of Paris, the middle classes were scared of our power. We were the workers and we could achieve anything. Those above us thought that by limiting
our lives, meant they could control our lives.
How wrong they were. In that month of June, the workers of Paris had had enough and decided to take to the streets, to revolt. Those of the middle class, who had once been our friends, who had helped us overthrow Royalty, used the militia to beat us down.
On Monday the 26th of June my brothers, my father, and my Uncle Joseph went to the barricades on the street below us. My Uncle had asked me to make a record of the day, and as I was told, I stood on the roof of our home in Rue Saint-Maur.
We had stones, they had rifles.
Uncle Joseph was wounded and both my brothers and father were killed. In the end they deported my Uncle to Algeria, as they did with thousands of other ‘insurgents’ (as they called them). I took a record on the Sunday after we had all helped in constructing the barricades.
On the Monday I made a final record.
Long live the workers, long live my Uncle Joseph.
Luc-Jean, June 1848, Paris.
bobby stevenson 2015