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PICTORIAL STORY

January 19, 2024

SAHIB

THE FRANKINCENSE BOY

Photography and story by France Leclerc
Article by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico

Originally from Quebec, Canada, France Leclerc is a photographer who has developed a sincere passion for visual storytelling. Being Canadian is an integral part of who France is; she embraces her French heritage, language, and culture. France spent much of her adult life in Montreal until attending graduate school at Cornell University receiving her PhD in management. After receiving her degree, France became part of the faculty at MIT School of Management, as well the University of Chicago Business School, where she was a professor of global marketing.

While residing in Chicago it became apparent to France that the path of academia was not the right direction for her, she lacked the passion and commitment that her colleagues who were fully devoted to their work. She decided to change her direction and took a series of classes in a small photography school in Chicago. France found comfort in her steps forward on her new path, continuing to take workshops to feed her new passion, and inspire new ways of critical thinking through the lens of her camera. Taking time off gave France a new start, a chance to rediscover the world in new ways. She started traveling to remote areas in Ethiopia, Tibet, Myanmar, each time returning from her excursions with a fever to tell her stories. This is when life changed for France, she had found her passion. Her love for traveling to other places around the world has provided ample opportunity for her to immerse herself in many different cultures. France finds authentic connections in the communities she engages, giving her a clear voice that speaks for the people she photographs.

“As a child, being part of the French minority in English Canada, I learned that one may have to fight to preserve a culture. Maybe this is where my interest in cultures originated, I don’t know. I have always been fascinated by the “world” and curious about its diversity, challenges, and the resilience of human beings, particularly women. I have spent time in over 100 countries, and I have visited many of them multiple times.”

Now residing in Chicago, France has spent many years traveling while searching for clues and answers to better understand human behavior, why people behave the way they do. This search has fueled France’s curiosity throughout the years, inspiring what she has defined as “Life Photography”. Her focus has allowed her to capture the beauty in the moment, making visual and emotional connections inherent to different cultures in society.

“I am interested in portraying the way people live, play, eat, dress, interact, celebrate, pray and love. My interest in photography is closely related to my interest in storytelling. Coming back from a trip, I have so many stories to tell, and what better way to tell them than with images.”

France’s documentary exploration often brings her to obscure out of the way places around the world, where she embraces the community finding captivating stories for her visual translations. Recently she has turned the focus of her camera to streets, where contemporary life and issues inspire her frames.

“I aim to document what I see and share it with the world. When I return from a trip, I write stories around my images and post them on my website. I have over 100 of them now. I hope that the more people know about other cultures and ways of life, the less threatened they will feel by them, and who knows, maybe they will get inspired by them as I often do. It is probably a naïve view, but I feel so privileged when I learn something new I have to assume others, at least some, feel the same way.”

France has shared one of her captivating short stories with us, it is a beautiful example of exploring with open eyes and with a clear mind discovering endearing connections to community, respectfully sharing their stories with genuine interest and care for her subjects. This intriguing story takes place in the village of Poshina, Gujarat.

FRANCE LECLERC

“I met Sahib in Poshina, a village in the northern state of Gujarat, close to the border with Rajasthan. At dawn, I started walking in the town. I first noticed that a few people were sleeping on the streets, some on a platform in front of an array of small shops. A young boy was awake among them, standing next to a pile of blankets. I waved at him, took a quick photo, and continued to explore further. A couple of hours later, as I retraced my steps to return for what I felt was a well-deserved breakfast, I saw this young boy again. He was sitting on what I assume was his mother’s lap, next to an older boy and a much older lady. The older boy was Sahib, ten years old, looking serious and responsible. I sat with them for a while and learned that the younger boy was his little brother, and the older lady was his grandmother. His father meandered toward us at a later point. Sahib is not from Poshina; he is a wanderer or an itinerant. His family does not have a home. To earn a little money for the family, he burns frankincense in the top tier of a three-tier vessel. Sahib goes around the village, stopping at houses and shops to offer them the smoke and smell of his frankincense that he shares using a small piece of cardboard as a fan in exchange for a few coins. This is his life: he does not go to school; he walks around offering to “purify” people’s lives through a little sniff of his frankincense. After chatting briefly, Sahib announced that it was time for him to start his round, and I decided to follow along. And so, Sahib spent the next few hours in the streets of this small village, chatting with the shop owners, knocking at doors of family homes in narrow streets, and meeting people, some of whom he knew but also new ones. All are welcoming Sahib and his frankincense.

At the end of his route, Sahib announced that he was done and was now going to another village for the afternoon. I asked him whether his family would sleep at the same place as last night and if I could return to say goodbye the next day. He said yes. So, at dawn the next day, I went down to the platform where I had seen the little boy the previous morning, ready for another adventure with Sahib. Sadly, nobody was on the platform. I will never have the answers to the million questions I had come up with the previous day, and I will probably never see Sahib’s smile again except in my images of him. But I will never forget our brief time together.”

France is an observer, listening with her ears and her eyes. She brings her stories to life, allowing the viewer and reader to step into the frames, helping them to make the same valuable connections to the cultures and communities she portrays.

As a traveler and visitor to global remote communities, France has found a way to assimilate herself into the cultures she visits, as an observer. Her observations have given her purpose to help expose some of the constraints, misguided views, and blind assumptions made towards individuals or groups in communities globally.

Photographing her subjects, France portrays them illuminated in the light of their own being, revealing intimate details through her investigations. She is humbled by her surroundings, and shares a true respect and admiration for the people she engages and is mindful and has much admiration for their traditions and daily practices.

France’s visual storytelling has been embraced by the photographic community and has been exhibited in numerous curated exhibitions winning prestigious awards. Most recently, her images won third place at the Miami Street Photography Festival in 2022 and third place at the Lens Culture Street Photography Award in 2023. One of her series was a gold medal winner in the Culture and Daily Life category of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award in 2023 and two of her series were included in the Curated Selection “State of the World” at the Prix de la Photographie, Paris, also in 2023. Her work was featured in Geo Magazine, Dodho Magazine, Lens Magazine and All About Photo.

The Pictorial List is grateful for France’s commitment to Humanity, and for sharing the inspiration that has provided her with the brilliant ambition to explore and understand the world through her photography. We look forward to the next chapter in France’s novel about humanity and how different cultures navigate sociological constraints as well as celebrate their freedoms.

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The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.

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