/ 2018-2019

> Prix Caritas, photographie sociale 2022 - Shortlist

Photographic film below ︎︎︎
J’avais admis leur présence inconsciemment, en marchant dans les rues de Paris. À toute heure du jour ou de la nuit, par beau temps ou sous la pluie, leurs silhouettes montées sur deux roues passaient furtivement devant moi, plaquées sur les murs de la ville, à peine remarquées. Depuis 2018, les travailleurs de la livraison de repas ont pris une place incontournable dans notre quotidien. J’ai voulu connaître les histoires de ceux qui nous livrent jusque chez nous, et dont nous ne savons pourtant rien, sinon les contours de leurs sacs isothermes multicolores. Nous les voyons immigrés ? Sans papiers ? Exploités ?

Rapides, toujours en mouvement, il n’a pas été facile de les rencontrer, ni de gagner leur confiance. Des mois ensuite pour les revoir, tant leur occupation leur laisse peu de temps personnel : “je n’ai presque pas de vie” me confiait l’un d’eux. Ils m’ont expliqué leurs conditions de travail, les passages obligés édictés par les sociétés de livraison et par une économie de service au modèle intenable : les heures fixes de connexion, l’assiduité requise pour maintenir les statistiques, la fatigue et les dangers d’une activité qui oblige à prendre des risques pour gagner en rapidité. L’expression « Ubérisation » est quant à elle entrée au langage courant, synonyme d’exploitation et de dérive de nos sociétés urbaines.

J’ai voulu donner à sentir le contraste entre les hommes que j’ai rencontrés et l’image de surface que nous en avons : les mosaïques qui les assimilent ainsi à un « motif » sont envisagées chacune comme une seule et même image qui symbolise par le nombre la perte d’individualité et représente la multiplicité d’individus que nous ne regardons plus. Ces photographies les traitent avec la même dureté que le système auquel ils doivent se plier : comme simple mobilier urbain. N’est-ce pas également ainsi que nous les percevons trop souvent ? L’habit, ou en tout cas la tenue de livreur, fait visiblement le moine.

Je les ai arrêtés dans leur course effrénée pour dresser leur portrait sur mon studio de fortune, dans la rue. Par ce décor lui aussi factice, j’ai souhaité marquer le rôle qu’ils doivent tenir dans un « métier » qui les enferme dans une spirale de fragilité. Puis j’ai découvert les histoires d’hommes arrivés là pour des raisons différentes, mais tous mus par des rêves. Des parcours dessinés par les circonstances, touchants, parfois difficiles.

Au fil des rencontres, en faisant leurs portraits cette fois dans leur lieu de vie,  j’ai voulu leur redonner corps. Capter également leurs voix pour leur rendre dignité et visibilité. Ne plus supposer mais bien recueillir leur histoire. Nourrir ces rencontres de mon regard, tout autant qu’eux impressionnaient la surface de ma pellicule.

I had admitted their presence unconsciously, walking through the streets of Paris. At any time of the day or night, in good weather or in the rain, their two-wheeled silhouettes would stealthily pass me by, plastered on the city walls, barely noticed. Since 2018, meal delivery workers have become a fixture in our daily lives. I wanted to know the stories of those who deliver to our homes, and about whom we know nothing except the outlines of their multicoloured cooler bags. Do we see them as immigrants? Undocumented? Exploited?

Fast, always on the move, it was not easy to meet them, nor to gain their trust. It took months to see them again, as their occupation leaves them little personal time: "I have almost no life", one of them confided to me. They explained to me their working conditions, the compulsory steps dictated by the delivery companies and by a service economy with an untenable model: the fixed hours of connection, the assiduity required to maintain the statistics, the fatigue and the dangers of an activity that obliges one to take risks to gain speed. As for the expression "Uberization", it has become part of everyday language, synonymous with exploitation and the drift of our urban societies.

I wanted to give a sense of the contrast between the men I met and the surface image we have of them: the mosaics that assimilate them to a "motif" are each considered as a single image that symbolizes through numbers the loss of individuality and represents the multiplicity of individuals that we no longer look at. These photographs treat them with the same harshness as the system to which they must conform: as mere street furniture. Is this not also how we too often perceive them? The suit, or at least the deliveryman's outfit, obviously makes the man.

I stopped them in their frantic race to draw their portrait on my makeshift studio in the street. With this fake setting, I wanted to show the role they have to play in a "profession" that locks them into a spiral of fragility. Then I discovered the stories of men who arrived there for different reasons, but all driven by dreams. Their paths were shaped by circumstances, touching and sometimes difficult.  As I met them, I wanted to give them a new life by making portraits of them in their living quarters. To capture their voices to give them back their dignity and visibility. Not to assume but to collect their story. To nourish these encounters with my gaze, just as they impressed the surface of my film.

Stevens, age 28, born in Côte d’Ivoire. 20–25 workdays a month, €900 net earnings.

“I left my country and a family with eight children in 2011. To start with, my ambition was to become a doctor, but I was told that soccer would be a quicker way of helping my family. I played in Tunisia, Sweden, and Greece. Then that last club was hit by the crisis, and I found myself in France. When my wife got pregnant, I had to juggle soccer and deliveries. My daughter was born and I stopped playing soccer to be with her, I wanted to be present at her side. Every day, with 8 to 9 hours of deliveries, we estimated we needed to make at least €100. My personal record? €227. Non-stop from 11:30 in the morning to 10 at night. To move fast, you take risks: ride on the sidewalk, run yellow lights, ride against traffic. Once, I had an unpleasant experience with a restaurant owner who treated me like dirt. I called my customer service and complained, and since then I have been turning down all his deliveries. Before, we had three to four deliveries per hour. One could earn a living. Now, Deliveroo has opened up all the zones: a customer in Clichy can order a meal from Nation. Afterward, they complain that we turn down too many deliveries, but who wants to ride 10km for €4.70? I pay 25% in taxes. When I make €60 net for 10 hours of work in the cold, I tell myself I’d rather spend that time with my daughter. My goal is to build something for my family in Côte d’Ivoire so they aren’t living in poverty when I go and visit. I haven’t been home in eight years.”

Boubacar, age 27, born in Guinea Conakry. 24 workdays a month, €1300 net earnings.

“I came to Paris two years ago after having crossed the Mediterranean illegally. In Guinea, my mother died giving birth to me. I went to school, but after my father was killed for political reasons while we were in Guinea-Bissau, I supported myself as best I could. I managed to cross over to Mauritania, then to Morocco, and worked in aluminum siding. After an accident on the job, I left the country to go to Spain, then to Bordeaux, France. Now, in Paris, I live alone, with no family. I work as a rider for Stuart and Uber Eats, but under someone else’s account. I applied to have my own account, but got no reply. There are too many people waiting to get legalized. Winters are hard. Working conditions are difficult. In the summer, on the other hand, there are fewer orders, and so sometimes I make €40 to €50 before taxes for 8–9 hours of work. There are ups and downs, but I’ve been lucky. I like working with my hands, and would like to start my own aluminum siding company, like my previous job. Also, I’d like to help orphans in Africa; I have family down there who are struggling.”

Chris, age 25, born in France. 20 workdays a month, €1800 net earnings.

“I was never good at school; I passed my professional Baccalauréat in transportation to please my mother, and I’ve also learned to code and tried doing 42 [a coding school]. I also made some “easy money” and did time. For three years now I’ve been self-employed as a rider for Deliveroo, Uber, and other platforms. I cover 100km a day and work nine-hour days, from 11:30am to 11pm, with a two-hour break. To take a day off you need to give the company 24 hours’ notice, which may be problematic if you hit a last-minute snag, like a delay on RER B if you live just outside the city. To be able to work, you need to get allocated time slots; and to be eligible, you need to have good ratings. This means you can’t miss a day, and you have to be within range of your work zone at the scheduled time. My longest delivery was 10km. Just for the heck of it. The nice thing is that I get to discover every nook and cranny in Paris. In this job, there are a lot of people who subcontract and exploit undocumented workers to do the deliveries for them, while they take a 30 to 50 percent cut. It’s really shameless to be profiting from other people’s misfortune like this. What do I find disheartening? Waiting fifteen minutes for an order outside a restaurant in the rain, losing an hour of work because of the delay, and dealing with employees who won’t even look you in the eye.”

Amady, age 28, born in Côte d’Ivoire. 28 workdays a month, €1200 net earnings.

“In Abidjan, I studied business. But my passion was soccer. I’d always wanted to be like Zinedine Zidane and have a professional career in France. I found myself playing in Morocco and thought I could break through, but because of an injury it didn’t work out. I’ve been doing this job for three months now, working as a rider for Deliveroo. It’s a physically demanding job. When it rains, it’s horrible, because it gets very cold. But you must be on time, and your company makes you work weekends, because that’s when the demand is the biggest. Sometimes I get back home at 11 at night; have just enough time to grab a bite and shower; go to bed at 1am, and the next morning it starts all over again. You’re dead tired. Some customers are very nice, will wish you best of luck and give you a tip. But many are very impatient and rude. What gets to you is the way people look at you in the street. Their eyes speak volumes; you can just feel they think you are working a degrading job. Religion? It helps me get through the day, when I feel despondent, or when I have no one to hang out with. My childhood dream has been shattered, but now I have other plans. Man proposes, God disposes.”

Hassen, age 30, born in Algeria. 30 workdays a month, €2000 net earnings.

“I came to France in 2015 with a Bachelor’s in Legal and Administrative Science. In Algeria, I worked in ocean freight. I’ve been a rider for Deliveroo for a year and a half. Every day, at 11.30am, I sit down on a bench with my friends and wait for orders. When it rings, we wish each other good luck. As a rule, I’m done by 4pm, then start again at 6pm and work until 11pm. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights are peak delivery times. You must log in your hours or else you get downgraded. And so you rarely get a weekend off. Every Monday, Deliveroo sends me a new schedule depending on my ratings from the week before. The lower my ratings, the fewer work hours I will be assigned. Every day, I cover a minimum 60 km by bike. We are paid per delivery, not per hour. A little while ago, the rates went down from €5.75 to €4.70 per delivery, from which, of course, you need to deduct self-employment taxes. When I go to pick up an order at a restaurant sometimes the client scowls at me, as if I was unclean. I honestly don’t understand. My dream? To open my own restaurant.”

Delmas, age 29, born in Côte d’Ivoire. 26 workdays a month, €1500 net earnings.

“I’m the only one among my 12 siblings to live in France. Before, I studied business in Morocco and volunteered for migrant support organizations, such as the Pan-African Organization for the Fight against AIDS (OPALS). I have been a delivery rider for two years. It’s physical labor. You have to be on your toes and follow the rules of the road. Fatigue makes you lose concentration, commit errors, and may even lead to a fatal accident. I often get a flat, so I would accept short-distance orders and deliver them on foot. It’s hard to live with the condescending gaze of a customer when you’re delivering their pizza on the sixth floor without an elevator, simply because you’re wearing a rider’s uniform. Or the way restaurant owners look at us, barely give us the time of day and won’t let us sit down. It’s normal to sweat when you’re biking. People shouldn’t look at us like we’re some bums. A job is a job. It’s more dignified than begging. I do this job with passion.”

Georges, age 30, born in Belgium. 20 workdays a month, €1300 net earnings.

“I have a Professional Baccalauréat in business and a Brevet de Technicien Supérieur in international commerce. I’m originally from Guinea, but I have lived a bit everywhere: England, Italy, Germany. I’d like to be independent, be my own boss. It was my younger brother who told me about Deliveroo. It’s been a year and a half since I started working for them. It’s a bit complicated because we work every single day, there are no weekends off. Working with customers is fine, but with some restaurant owners, it’s more complicated; we get no respect. They see us as undocumented workers, unwanted and underpaid. My passions? Japanese comic books and tattoos. The swallow I have on my forearm represents freedom. I’d like to travel, and be a freelance app developer somewhere in the world, with an internet connection, and work for customers in France or Spain.”

Listen to their story

“Délivrez-nous” is a documentary photographic film on food delivery bikers produced in 2019 with the support of Agence VU' in Paris.

Photos and interviews: Maxime Riché
Thanks to Bruno Boudjelal, Martine Ravache and Agence VU'

© Maxime Riché 2022